What is an Oral Cancer Exam?

The oral cancer examination is a completely painless process. During the visual part of the examination, the dentist and hygienist will look for abnormalities and feel the face, glands and neck for unusual bumps. If abnormalities occur, the dentist will implement treatment recommendations.

Oral cancer is a pathologic process which begins with an asymptomatic stage during which the usual cancer signs may not be readily noticeable.  

This makes the oral cancer examinations performed by the dentist important.  Oral cancers can be of varied histologic types such as teratoma, adenocarcinoma, and melanoma. The most common type of oral cancer is the malignant squamous cell carcinoma. This oral cancer type usually originates in lip and mouth tissues.

There are many different places in the oral cavity and maxillofacial region in which oral cancers commonly occur, including:

  • Lips
  • Mouth
  • Tongue
  • Salivary Glands
  • Throat
  • Gums
  • Face

It is important to note that around 75% of oral cancers are linked with modifiable behaviors such as smoking, tobacco use and excessive alcohol Consumption.  

When oral cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages, treatment is generally very effective.  Any noticeable abnormalities in the tongue, gums, mouth or surrounding area should be evaluated by a health professional as quickly as possible.  During the oral cancer exam, the dentist and dental hygienist will be examining the maxillofacial and oral regions carefully for signs of pathologic changes.

The following signs will be checked during a routine oral cancer exam:

  • Red patches and sores – Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing sores that bleed easily can be indicative of pathologic (cancerous) changes
  • Leukoplakia- This is a hardened white or gray, slightly raised lesion that can appear anywhere inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or may become cancerous if treatment is not sought.
  • Lumps- Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the throat or mouth can signal pathological problems.
What are Digital X-rays?

Digital x-rays use an electronic sensor (instead of x-ray films) that captures and stores the digital image on a computer.  This image can be instantly viewed and enlarged helping the dentist and dental hygienist detect problems easier.  Digital x-rays reduce radiation 80-90% compared to the already low exposure of traditional dental x-rays.

Dental x-rays are essential for prevention and diagnosing hidden abnormalities. Dental x-rays may reveal:

  • Abscesses or cyst
  • Bone loss
  • Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors
  • Decay between the teeth
  • Developmental abnormalities
  • Poor tooth and root positions
  • Problems inside a tooth or below the gumline

Detecting and treating dental problems at an early stage may save you unnecessary discomfort and your teeth.

What are abscessed teeth?

An abscessed tooth, or a dental abscess, is a condition that occurs when one or more of your teeth develop a bacterial infection. Ultimately, this causes a pocket of pus to form, which triggers a toothache and moderate to severe pain. Left untreated, the pain from an abscessed tooth may radiate into your jaw or ear and cause more severe complications, including a rapid heartbeat or sepsis.

What are the symptoms of abscessed teeth?

The main symptom associated with abscessed teeth is a dull, throbbing pain that radiates from your affected tooth into your gums. As the infection progresses, it’s also common to experience:

  • Facial redness and swelling
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Bad breath
  • Discolored or loose teeth
  • Foul taste in your mouth
  • Fever
  • You might even notice that biting or chewing is painful or that the pain gets worse when you lay down.
Are there different types of abscessed teeth?

Periapical abscess

  • A periapical abscess develops at the tip of your tooth’s root. Periapical abscesses occur when bacteria enter your tooth pulp through a cavity or other weakened area. The pulp is the soft, inner portion of your tooth that contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. 

Periodontal abscess

  • A periodontal abscess develops on your gum, next to the root of a tooth. In severe cases, periodontal abscesses may also spread to your surrounding tissue and bone. The most common cause of periodontal abscesses is gum disease, but it can also occur due to an injury.

Gingival abscess

  • A gingival abscess develops on your gums. Gingival abscesses occur when a foreign object, such as the hull of a popcorn kernel or a toothbrush bristle, becomes embedded in your gums. 
How do you treat abscessed teeth?

Treatment for an abscessed tooth depends on the type and severity of abscess you have, but conservative measures such as the following are typically enough to provide relief:

  • Draining the abscess
  • Removing the foreign object
  • Taking antibiotics

In more serious cases, Dr. Robbie and Dr. Craig might recommend root canal therapy or extraction of the affected tooth.