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An oral exam is routinely performed by the dentist during the course of an initial comprehensive exam and regular check-ups. An oral cancer exam refers to the identification and management of diseases pertaining to the maxillofacial and oral regions.
The soft tissue of the mouth is normally lined with mucosa, which is special type of skin that should appear smooth in texture and pink in color. Any alteration of the color or texture of the mucosa may signal the beginning of a pathologic process. These changes may occur on the face, neck, and areas of the mouth (e.g., gums, tongue, lips, etc.). The most serious of these pathologic changes (which may or may not be painful) is oral cancer, but there are also many other common pathologic problems.
Geographic Tongue – Also known as Benign Migratory Glossitis or Erythema Migrans, is a condition where the tongue is missing papillae (small bumps) in different areas, and a map-like appearance can develop. This condition is usually seen as red well defined areas on or around the sides of the tongue. The red patches (which can look like an unsightly rash) may come and go from hours to months at a time and cause increased sensitivity to certain substances.
Median Palatal Cyst – This cyst is of developmental origin and is essentially a fluid filled skin sac. It usually appears in the middle of the palate and may cause substantial discomfort.
Hairy Tongue – An overgrowth of bacteria or a yeast infection in the mouth which can cause the tongue to appear hairy and black. This condition is usually a result of poor oral hygiene, chronic or extensive use of antibiotics, or radiation treatments to the head or neck. It is often also seen in HIV positive patients and those who are intravenous drug users. Hairy Tongue may or may not require treatment.
Treatment of Pathological Diseases
In the majority of cases, the pathological changes experienced in the oral region are uncomfortable and disfiguring, but not life threatening. However, oral cancer is on the rise (especially among men) and the chances of survival are around 80% if an immediate diagnosis is made.
Oral cancer is a general term used when referring to any type of cancer affecting the tongue, jaw, and lower cheek area. Since it is impossible for the dentist to decisively diagnose a pathological disease without taking a biopsy sample of the affected area, seeking immediate treatment when changes are first noticed might be a life and death decision. For less serious problems, there are several options available, such as:
The inside of the mouth is normally lined with a special type of skin (mucosa) that is smooth and coral pink in color. Any alteration in this appearance could be a warning sign for a pathological process. The most serious of these is oral cancer. The following can be signs at the beginning of a pathologic process or cancerous growth:
- Reddish patches (erythroplasia) or whitish patches (leukoplakia) in the mouth
- A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
- A lump or thickening on the skin lining the inside of the mouth
- Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
These changes can be detected on the lips, cheeks, palate and gum tissue around the teeth, tongue, face and/or neck. Pain does not always occur with pathology, and curiously, is not often associated with oral cancer. However, any patient with facial and/or oral pain without an obvious cause or reason may also be at risk for oral cancer.
We would recommend performing an oral cancer self-examination monthly and remember that your mouth is one of your body's most important warning systems. Do not ignore suspicious lumps or sores. Please contact us so we may help.