How to Screen For Oral Cancer

Hi! Here’s my mouth!

I saw an interesting post on my feed this morning and I thought it could benefit everyone.

As I’ve mentioned before, if you go to the dentist every 6 months you should be receiving an intra-oral examination from your hygienist as an oral cancer screening tool.

I will explain in more detail how I go about an intra/extra oral examination for those of you who are unsure if you have ever had one.

Once the client is seated and reclined in the chair and I am wearing my personal protective equipment (mask, gloves, loupes) I will begin by massaging the facial tissues. I usually begin on the cheeks and move towards the TMJ. I will ask the patient to open and close while I make note of any pain, popping or clicking in this area. Once I have done this I move towards the chin and neck area where I examine the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes are located under the chin and down the neck. I examine the sternocliedomastoid and the back of the neck.

The point of this is to feel and look for any bumps or lumps that seem unusual. This could be due to their location or their size. I examine the skin for any new lesions that were not there previously and if you are a first time client, I set a baseline record for subsequent appointments.

The intraoral exam looks at all of the tissues inside the mouth. I examine the cheeks, palate (both hard and soft), the tonsils and the inside of the lips. I make sure to flip the tongue over and look underneath. While studying for dental hygiene, I had to take an extensive human anatomy course and other courses that focused just on the head and neck. Through my education I learned all of the structures that are normal and present in the mouth and therefore, I am ensuring that there are no unusual findings.

This examination that I just detailed takes no more than five minutes but it could save someones life. If something is suspicious during an exam, the dentist can make a referral to a medical professional or an oral pathologist.

Unfortunately not everyone is able to come to the dentist every six months. Therefore, you should also be doing self examinations at home on a regular basis, especially if you have risk factors for oral cancer such as being a smoker. Be proactive, check the roof of your mouth and underneath your tongue for lumps and bumps that aren’t normally there. Stick your tongue out and look at either side of the tongue, watch for white lesions that are painless and don’t go away.

As healthcare professionals, it is our job to be vigilant about making sure that our patients are receiving the best care possible. If you notice that your hygienist or dentist is not performing an intra/extra oral examination inquire in to why they aren’t. Although everyone has busier days than others, this is something that should not be neglected.

I think a lot of people are worried to offend or question what their medical professional does because they do not have the education to back up what they are saying. This should not be the case, on the contrary it is nice to have patients that are interested in their own health. Remember that it is your body and you are the best judge as to what feels normal and what doesn’t.

If you notice something, make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.

Feel free to ask me any questions!

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