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APR 10th 2014

What Happens During An Oral Cancer Screening?

APR 10th 2014
What Happens During An Oral Cancer Screening?

In case you missed our article earlier this week, April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. And, one of the most important things you can do to prevent oral cancer is to get a screening.

The American Dental Association recommends getting an oral cancer screening at each dentist appointment. But, what happens during an oral cancer test at the dentist?

Don’t worry – it’s really not that scary. Here is what you can expect during a routine oral cancer exam for Oral Cancer Awareness Month.

Expect it to be painless. The average screening takes only a few minutes and can easily fit into a regular dentist’s appointment. And, there are no scary tools, medicines or machines.

Expect to remove your dentures (if you have them). This goes for full plates and partials. Your dentist needs to be able to see your entire mouth, with no obstructions.

Expect to answer some questions. Your answers are important – they could help pinpoint potential problems before your actual oral cancer screening begins. Here are a few questions you may hear during your test.

  • Have you had any difficulty swallowing? (Not necessarily pain – it could just be a sensation of things sticking in your throat.)
  • Have you been hoarse for a significant period of time (over 2 weeks)?
  • Have you noticed any small, painless lumps on the side of your neck? (Painful lumps are usually some other type of infection, not oral cancer.)
  • Have you had any persistent earaches – especially just on one side?
  • Do you have difficulty speaking or moving your tongue?

Expect your dentist to check your face, neck, lips and mouth, using gloved fingers, gauze and/or tongue depressors. Here’s the typical order of events:

  • Provider feels your jaw and neck with both hands, checking for lumps.
  • Provider checks the insides of your lips and cheeks.
  • Provider asks you to stick out your tongue to see if it looks normal.
  • Provider checks the base and underside of your tongue.
  • Provider examines the roof and floor of your mouth, and then the back of your throat.
  • Provider uses one finger to press down on the floor of your mouth and check for abnormalities.

And that’s it! See, your screening for oral cancer wasn’t that bad, was it?

It’s important to note that more young people are contracting oral cancer now, often due to the HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. Oral cancer isn’t just a disease for smokers and older people. Anyone can get it, and everyone should get an oral cancer exam.

So, the next time you have a dentist appointment, remember to ask for your screening. It’s painless and could save your life.

To find out more about oral cancer risk factors and prevention tips, click here.

Talk to us in the comments! Have you had an oral cancer test? What was your experience like?

(Image via the International Oral Cancer Association.)