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Oral Cancer Exam

According to research conducted by the American Cancer society, more than 30,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year.  More than 7,000 of these cases result in the death of the patient.  The good news is that oral cancer can easily be diagnosed with an annual oral cancer exam, and effectively treated when caught in its earliest stages.

Oral cancer is a pathologic process which begins with an asymptomatic stage during which the usual cancer signs may not be readily noticeable.  This makes the oral cancer examinations performed by the dentist critically important.  Oral cancers can be of varied histologic types such as teratoma, adenocarcinoma and melanoma.  The most common type of oral cancer is the malignant squamous cell carcinoma.  This oral cancer type usually originates in lip and mouth tissues.

There are many different places in the oral cavity and maxillofacial region in which oral cancers commonly occur, including:

  • Lips
  • Mouth
  • Tongue
  • Salivary Glands
  • Oropharyngeal Region (throat)
  • Gums
  • Face

Reasons for oral cancer examinations

It is important to note that around 75 percent of oral cancers are linked with modifiable behaviors such as smoking, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption.  Your dentist can provide literature and education on making lifestyle changes and smoking cessation.

When oral cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages, treatment is generally very effective.  Any noticeable abnormalities in the tongue, gums, mouth or surrounding area should be evaluated by a health professional as quickly as possible.  During the oral cancer exam, the dentist and dental hygienist will be scrutinizing the maxillofacial and oral regions carefully for signs of pathologic changes.

The following signs will be investigated during a routine oral cancer exam:

  • Red patches and sores – Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing sores that bleed easily can be indicative of pathologic (cancerous) changes.

  • Leukoplakia – This is a hardened white or gray, slightly raised lesion that can appear anywhere inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or may become cancerous if treatment is not sought.

  • Lumps – Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the throat or mouth can signal pathological problems.

Oral cancer exams, diagnosis and treatment

The oral cancer examination is a completely painless process.  During the visual part of the examination, the dentist will look for abnormality and feel the face, glands and neck for unusual bumps.  Lasers which can highlight pathologic changes are also a wonderful tool for oral cancer checks.  The laser can “look” below the surface for abnormal signs and lesions which would be invisible to the naked eye.

If abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia or lumps are apparent, the dentist will implement a diagnostic impression and treatment plan.  In the event that the initial treatment plan is ineffective, a biopsy of the area will be performed.  The biopsy includes a clinical evaluation which will identify the precise stage and grade of the oral lesion.

Oral cancer is deemed to be present when the basement membrane of the epithelium has been broken.  Malignant types of cancer can readily spread to other places in the oral and maxillofacial regions, posing additional secondary threats.  Treatment methods vary according to the precise diagnosis, but may include excision, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

During bi-annual check-ups, the dentist and hygienist will thoroughly look for changes and lesions in the mouth, but a dedicated comprehensive oral cancer screening should be performed at least once each year.

If you have any questions or concerns about oral cancer, please ask your dentist or dental hygienist.

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Testimonials

I just wanted to send an update.
We got Sidney's tongue tie and lip tie revised 2 weeks ago today. Her top lip is looking great, she has great mobility and the stretches have really helped her lip muscles loosen up. I'm so pleased with the results.
Her tongue has gotten hard to stretch as she has figured out how to wiggle her tongue around to avoid the fingers, which I'm taking as a great sign. She's really learning how to move it around. When I eventually get under her tongue, there seems to be a bit of reattachment/regrowth, but since the mobility is there I'm not concerned. Just more motivation to keep up on the stretches, which she only mildly complains about these days.
I'm so happy to have a skilled dentist here in town to help her little mouth out. Keep up the good work.

Callie S.

Dear Dr. Boldt,
We've just made it to the two week mark since our tongue tie and upper lip revision with you. I just wanted to thank you for doing such a thorough revision and going deep enough to really make a difference. Since the night of the revision my son Denzel (5.5 months) began sleeping 9 hours continuously out of 12 through the night (as opposed to his usual 3-4 before needing to nurse) he also began pooping daily as opposed to every few days. Nursing is now pain free and his upper lip is no longer STIFF. I am so grateful to have someone in Edmonton skilled enough to understand and rectify his tt with Laser.

Denzel's Mom

Great experience! The staff are wonderful and it was easy to get an appointment at a time that suited us. My kids (5&7) loved the video games in the waiting area and the TV on the ceiling in the exam room.

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