During a comprehensive periodontal exam, the mouth is carefully examined for any abnormality that can be seen or felt. Oral lesions can be red, white, smooth or ulcerated, painless or painful. Sometimes patients are aware of an abnormality they might have, but sometimes it is Dr. Massoth or Dr. Dixon who first notices a lesion during an examination.
Abnormalities of the oral soft tissue fit into any number of diagnostic categories, most of which are benign. However, oral cancer must be considered and ruled out. Unfortunately 300,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year and 7000 patients die of the disease each year. Oral cancer typically does not produce any symptoms when it begins, making it especially important to catch early. Dr. Massoth and Dr. Dixon have the skills and tools to ensure that early signs and symptoms of oral cancer and precancerous conditions are identified.
While it isn’t clear exactly what causes oral cancer, some risk factors have been identified including use of tobacco products, heavy alcohol consumption, human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, as well as excessive exposure to the sun. The most frequent sites for oral cancer to arise are the floor of the mouth, soft palate at the back of the tongue, lips, and gums.
If you have a suspicious abnormality in your mouth Dr. Massoth or Dr. Dixon may want to take a biopsy which means removing cells or tissue and sending it to a pathology laboratory for microscopic diagnosis. These procedures are performed under local anesthesia. Pathology results are normally available within three to five days. Whatever the result, Dr. Massoth or Dr. Dixon will be able to discuss the diagnosis with you and implement a treatment plan that is right for you.
To protect yourself from oral cancer:
- avoid tobacco products, heavy alcohol consumption, HPV infection, and excessive sun exposure
- do not ignore red or white spots, sores, bleeding sores, lumps, thickened areas, tenderness, numbness, difficulty chewing or swallowing
- commit to regular comprehensive examinations of your teeth and oral cavity