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How Does My Dentist Know if I Have Oral Cancer?

Your dentist will look for signs of oral cancer during a regular exam. Oral cancer often starts as small sores or tiny white or red spots. A dentist is skilled at identifying these and other signs of cancer.

The Screening

The first step in detecting oral cancer is a painless exam. Your dentist can complete a screening in just a few minutes. Dentists will carefully inspect the following areas for sores, spots, and lumps:

  • Your face, neck, lips, and mouth

  • Your jaw and the side of your neck

  • Your tongue

  • The roof and floor of your mouth

  • The back of your throat

Testing for Cancer

Some sores and spots around the mouth are harmless; others are not. When dentists cannot tell what caused a spot or sore, they may perform a brush test. During a brush test, cells from the suspicious areas are removed with a brush and analyzed.

If precancerous cells are found, the lesion can be surgically removed. When found early, oral cancer can be more easily treated.

“Oral Cancer.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/o/oral-cancer  Accessed 2013.

“The Oral Cancer Exam.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, 2008. www.nidcr.nih.gov/NR/rdonlyres/0F236B30-9711-4DD5-9577-E338FC78BDF4/0/OralCancerExam.pdf Accessed 2013.

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