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 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.
What Is Oral Pathology?
Oral pathology, as a dental specialty, refers to finding, diagnosing, and treating oral diseases. Your mouth often serves as a sort of early warning system and is significantly and profoundly interconnected with your physical health in many ways. Our goal at Hill Country Oral Surgery is to prevent and treat tooth loss, gum disease, and other dental issues in Austin, TX, that pose a significant risk to your physical health.
What Does an Oral Pathologist Do?
Many dentists continue their education to work as specialists in specific fields. Orthodontists, periodontists, pediatric dentists, and oral pathologists all fit into this category. Oral pathologists receive additional training to diagnose, treat, and study oral health concerns that affect the mouth, face, jawbone, and other mouth structures. They use digital imaging equipment and perform biopsies to detect infections and cancer. With our expertise in oral pathology, we are equipped to help to handle more severe dental issues.
What Is an Oral Cancer Screening Like?
We perform oral cancer screenings from our Austin, TX, office to detect cancerous or pre-cancerous cells in the mouth. The goal is to catch cancer as early as possible. During the screening, we do a visual check of your oral cavity and look for sores or patches of discoloration. We will also touch tissues in your mouth with gloved fingers to make sure there aren’t any growths or abnormal conditions. In some cases, a special dye or screening light may be used to find unhealthy cells.
If Signs of Oral Cancer or Other Dental Diseases are Found, What’s Next?
If signs of mouth cancer or other oral health warning signs are present, we typically schedule a follow-up visit to monitor the area and note any changes between visits. We may also choose to perform a biopsy, in which we’ll remove and analyze a small sample of cells. Once we have the results, we diagnose the condition and begin discussing treatment options.
How Often Should You Have an Oral Cancer Screening?
There’s some variation among professionals when it comes to recommending how often you should have an oral cancer screening. Most experts agree, however, that you should have an oral cancer screening during routine dental visits or at least once a year by a dentist. You might consult with your dentist about having more frequent cancer screenings if you use tobacco or have other common risk factors. Do not hesitate to contact us if you feel you may be at risk for oral cancer in Austin, TX.
How Common is Oral Cancer?
The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 54,000 new cases of oral or oropharyngeal cancer this year and that this pathology will cause 11,230 deaths in the same time lapse. These figures might be surprising at first, as not many patients are familiar with this type of cancer, but they are not intended to alarm you. Oral cancer has a good prognosis when it’s caught on time, so you just need to attend your annual screenings to maintain oral and overall health.
What Are the Signs of Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer can present itself in multiple ways, so it’s difficult to associate a sign or symptom exclusively with this pathology. However, there are some changes in your oral cavity that you need to pay attention to:
- A canker sore in the oral cavity that doesn’t heal
- Pain that doesn’t go away
- A lump or thickening in the lips, mouth, or inside of the cheeks
- A whitish or reddish patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
- A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in your throat that doesn’t go away
- Trouble chewing or swallowing or moving the jaw or tongue
- Ill-fitting dentures
- Loosening of the teeth or pain around the teeth
- Voice changes
Which Are the Risk Factors for Oral Cancer?
Some habits and conditions increase a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although these factors, known as risk factors, do not directly cause oral cancer, they can often influence the development of the pathology. It is important to have them in mind and discuss them with your doctor to make more informed choices. Some of the risk factors for oral cancer are:
- Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.
- Heavy alcohol use.
- Excessive sun exposure to your lips.
- HPV or human papillomavirus (a sexually transmitted virus)
- A compromised immune system.
What Are the Education and Training Requirements for an Oral Pathologist?
Oral and maxillofacial pathology is one of the nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association. To become specialists, dentists need to receive additional clinical and theoretical training for 1.5 years, in which they study the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of oral pathologies in depth.
Should I See an Oral Pathologist?
Not necessarily. General dentists and oral surgeons are trained to detect abnormalities in the oral cavity, so they can spot any sign of oral pathology during check-ups and examinations. However, if they find any patch, lump, or thickness that deserves to be studied, they might refer you to an oral pathologist for further study or treatment.
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