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Oral Cancer Screening

Every year, thousands of people in the United States are diagnosed with oral cancer. It can occur anywhere in the mouth, including your jaw and tongue. An oral cancer screening is a quick, painless, and non-invasive test that is part of your dental exam.

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Why Is an Oral Cancer Screening Important?

Many cases of oral cancer are diagnosed late in the day when the condition has already progressed significantly, leading to higher fatality rates. The five-year survival rate of oral cancer is approximately 57%.

It’s most likely that your dentist is the only medical professional who regularly examines the inside of your mouth, and dentists are specially trained to detect early symptoms of this disease. Regular oral cancer screenings can help detect this disease earlier so you may receive less invasive treatment that could be more successful in the longer term.

Oral Cancer Screening

What Are the Risk Factors for Oral Cancer?

Risk factors for oral cancer can include:

  • Using tobacco in any form, including cigars, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and pipes.
  • Drinking alcohol to excess.
  • Exposure to sun, especially on your lips.
  • Exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • A weakened immune system.

While certain conditions can increase the risk of developing oral cancer, around 25% of people diagnosed have no known risk factors.

What Are the Signs of Oral Cancer?

Potential signs of oral cancer can include:

  1. A sore patch anywhere on your lips or inside your mouth that doesn’t heal within two weeks.
  2. Color changes to the tissues inside your mouth, causing patches that may look white or red.
  3. Changes to the way your teeth bite together.
  4. Loose teeth.
  5. Changes to the texture of the tissues inside your mouth.
  6. Growths or lumps inside your mouth.
  7. Difficulty swallowing.
  8. Mouth pain.
  9. Ear pain.

Most of these symptoms will be due to other causes, such as an infection, but please make an appointment to see us if you have these symptoms and they persist longer than two weeks or are causing you discomfort or pain.

The sooner we can see you, the sooner we can hopefully put your mind at rest and treat the problem effectively.

What Is an Oral Cancer Screening?

During a screening test for oral cancer, we look closely inside your mouth.
The areas that are checked include:

  • The inside of your cheeks.
  • The roof and floor of your mouth.
  • Your gums.
  • Tongue.
  • Tonsils.
  • Lips.

These areas are examined visually and we also use fingers to gently feel for any signs of lumps or bumps or thickened areas of tissue that may require closer investigation. Abnormalities can include tissues that have changed color, appearing white or red rather than pink.

If you have noticed any lumps or bumps or areas that feel tender in your mouth, let us know so we can examine them more closely.

What Happens If My Dentist Sees Something During a Mouth Cancer Examination?

If we spot something, it’s most likely nothing to worry about, but we may want to take a small biopsy, where a section of the tissue is removed and sent to a pathologist for analysis.

Another potential test is a brush biopsy, where we collect cells from your mouth using a small brush, wooden stick, or piece of cotton. These cells are then analyzed to check for any signs of abnormalities or precancerous changes.

We can then arrange a follow-up visit to discuss the results. You will be referred to a specialist for more advanced and expert care if necessary.

Checking for Oral Cancer Signs Between Dental Exams

Checking your mouth for oral cancer signs at home isn’t a substitute for a professional oral cancer screening, but it can be useful. You will get to know how your tissues should look and feel when they are healthy, so if you notice anything wrong, you can contact us for a proper screening.

Below are some tips on how to perform a screening at home.

  • Find a mirror in a well-lit area and gently pull your lips away from your teeth. Check for any signs of lumps, bumps, or discoloration.
  • Carefully pull your cheeks outward to check for any signs of red or white patches. Check for any sore spots or lesions.
  • Use a clean finger and thumb to feel along your gums.
  • Stick out your tongue to check for any discoloration or swelling. Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth to check underneath.
  • Lift your tongue to feel the floor of your mouth for any ulcers, swelling, or tenderness.
  • Tilt your head backward to see the roof of your mouth and check for any discoloration or ulcers.
  • Gently feel around your neck and underneath your jawline for any lumps or swelling.

Can I Prevent Oral Cancer?

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent this condition, but you can reduce your risk.

  1. Quit using tobacco, or preferably, don’t start. Tobacco exposes your mouth to dangerous carcinogenic or cancer-causing chemicals.
  2. Enjoy alcohol in moderation, as using it to excess can irritate the cells inside your mouth, increasing their vulnerability to cancerous changes.
  3. Use high-factor sunscreen to protect your lips when out in the sun. Preferably, wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades your entire face.
  4. See us regularly. My New Jersey Dentist will inspect your mouth for any signs of abnormalities during your regular dental exams.

Oral cancer is a fairly common cancer that affects the head and neck, but routine screenings provide the best chance for a timely diagnosis and earlier treatment. We can assess your oral and general health when you visit our dental practice. Based on this knowledge, we can recommend how frequently you should have oral cancer screenings. It is a quick and potentially life-saving test that everyone should have regularly.


Page Updated on May 23, 2024 by Dr. Victoria Kushensky, DDS (Dentist) of My New Jersey Dentist
Victoria Kushensky D.D.S

My name is Victoria Kushensky. I am a general dentist dedicated to remaining at the forefront of my field. Combining compassionate care with extensive knowledge, I offer cosmetic and general dentistry services as well as advanced root canal treatments.

I earned my Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree from the esteemed New York University College of Dentistry. Throughout my career, I have honed my skills in various dental procedures, ensuring effective treatment for each patient’s unique needs. I prioritize patient comfort and understanding, taking the time to thoroughly explain procedures and address any questions.

More about Dr. Kushensky

My NJ Dentist: Victoria Kushensky, DDS
385 Prospect Ave Suite 304
Hackensack, NJ 07601
(201) 298-8000