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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

Dr. Morgan is the BEST! He cares about what he does, and even better, he is great at what he does -- which is to restore the image of having good teeth back to your face! I've had three crowns made, and I was impressed by the way he treated each one like a well-crafted work of art. He was meticulous, patient, precise. He has very high standards and does not cut any corners. Best of all, he is friendly and courteous. He's been my dentist since 2008, and I have to say that every the time and dollar spent are worth the investment!

Maria Q., New York

"I asked Dr. Morgan to replace the crown on one of my front teeth, a glaring restoration that caused me to smile self-consciously. Once he'd finished, I told my sharp-eyed young daughter. She wanted to see and I bared my teeth for her. “Which one is it, Dad?”—no critique could have made a more ringing confirmation of Dr. Morgan’s precision in pursuit of dental wholesomeness."

~Mr. A.R.K.

"I searched for a dentist for a couple of years. My upper teeth were very small and discolored which always bothered me. My biggest concern was to find someone who would create a natural looking smile. Luck struck when I befriended a woman who to my disbelief mentioned her beautiful teeth all being 'fake'.

"I want your dentist" I said.

I now have a beautiful smile. My gums were raised, my teeth straightened and then capped or veneered. Dr Morgan is not only a very knowledgeable doctor but also a skilled craftsman. As a hobby sculptor and photographer he has a keen sense for 3 dimensional design and a very good eye. I have recommended him many times."

~Ms. T. M.

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