How Oral Cancer Screening Works

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In our experience at the office of Dr. Paul Nifong, Jr., DDS, just about everyone knows they should get regular dental checkups—ideally once every six months. However, not everyone has a good understanding of why getting your teeth checked is so important. At your dental appointments, the dental staff not only removes plaque and tartar and checks for cavities, but they also perform oral cancer screenings.

How Oral Cancer Screening Works

In this article, we’ll explain how an oral cancer screening works so that you have a better understanding of this part of your assessment.

  • Visual Exam – The first stage in an oral cancer screening is the visual examination. Your dentist will look at the various parts of your mouth, such as your cheeks, tongue, lips, tonsils, and the roof and floor, for signs of abnormal tissue.
  • Palpation – Another technique used in oral cancer screenings is palpation (which is a fancy medical term for touching). The dentist will use their fingers to gently feel your face, neck, and jaw, checking for lumps and bumps. If any spot feels sore or tender during this part of the screening, alert your dentist right away.
  • Screening Dyes and Lights – Dentists also use tools such as special dyes and lights during an oral cancer screening. The dyes react with cancerous cells to make them change color, making them easy to spot against areas of healthy tissue. The lights work in a similar way, highlighting cancer cells. After using these tools (and the other screening methods) to identify oral cancer—should you have it—your dentist will discuss treatment options with you and create a plan to address the disease.