According to the National Cancer Institute, over 21,000 men and 9,000 women will be diagnosed with oral cancer. April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month and a good time to ensure that you are aware of what to expect when you undergo a professional screening and what you can do at home to safeguard your health.
What Happens During an Examination?
An oral cancer screening is a simple procedure that is performed in your dentist's office with basic equipment. During the examination, your dentist examines the gums, cheeks, tongue, and the top and bottom of your mouth.
The dentist also examines your lymph nodes and looks for signs of swelling. If you have any bad oral health habits, such as smoking, let the dentist know. Smoking and other habits can sometimes lead to the development of oral cancer.
Depending on your dentist, he or she might opt to also use a special scope to inspect your mouth. In many instances though, the examination is limited to a visual inspection.
What Is the Dentist Looking For?
During the oral cancer screening, the dentist is looking for early warnings signs of the disease. For instance, thick patches around the mouth and throat or white lesions are signs of oral cancer. Other signs the dentist is looking for include:
- Numbness in the mouth
- Trouble with chewing, speaking, or swallowing
If any of these signs are present, the dentist will refer you to a specialist.
Can You Perform Self-Examinations?
Self-examining yourself is encouraged, but it is important to remember that professional screenings are needed also. To perform an examination at home, you need a handheld mirror and flashlight that allows you to easily visually inspect your mouth.
During the examination, look for white splotches in your mouth, lumps, and bumps. You should also press each area of your mouth to determine if there is any tenderness. Ideally, you should check your mouth every month. If so, you can identify any changes to your mouth when they happen.
If there are any changes, white spots, or other signs that are concerning, schedule an appointment with a dentist. He or she will need to further examine you to determine the cause of the symptoms. It is possible that another condition is causing the symptoms that you notice.
Early detection and treatment is important in dealing with oral cancer. Consult with your dental clinic to find the right screening schedule for you.