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Screening for Oral Cancer

Screening for oral cancer is an important part of the family dental services that you receive. Yearly exams help detect oral cancer early when it's most easily treatable.

Family dental services aren't just about cleanings and x-rays. They also serve another very important purpose - screening for oral cancer. This is somethign that should be done yearly to ensure that any abnormalities are caught early and treated as quickly as possible. At Healthy Smiles, we make sure we do a yearly screening to help protect our patients against this disease as part of an overall approach to oral healthcare.

Why Screening for Oral Cancer is Important

Oral cancer screening is so important because it allows us to catch the disease early when it's the most treatable. Although oral cancer is relatively rare in the NYC area, without yearly screening, by the time it's caught it's usually very advanced. Unfortunately, this type of cancer is aggressive so early detection is key.

Oral cancer is relatively rare, however the number of people diagnosed with mouth and throat cancers has been rising over the last serveal years. We're not sure why yet, but the trend is undeniable, which is why we provide yearly screening to all of our patients.

What Causes Oral Cancer

Like all cancers, oral cancer can be caused by an obvious precursor or it can be ideopathic, which means unknown. People who are most at risk for oral cancers like mouth and throat cancer include:

  • Those who use tobacco of any kind including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, and other products.
  • Those who drink heavily.
  • Those who have had a previous oral cancer diagnosis.
  • Those with a history of significant sun exposure, which increses the risk of lip cancer.

How Screening for Oral Cancer Works

As part of our other family dental services like cleaning, periodic x-rays, and other routine maintenance, an oral cancer screening will be administered once a year.

Manual Visual Exam

During this process, we look over the inside of the mouth, checking for red or white patches or mouth sores. We'll also feel the tissue of the mouth, checking for lumps and other abnormalities.


In addition to those measures, we use what's called a VELscope. This scope shines a specialized light. We wear special glasses while shining this light over the tissues of your mouth. This light works with the specialized glasses to show us the layers of the tissues below the skin, giving us a better view of abnormalities which will show up as a different color from the health parts of the mouth.

What Happens if Cancer is Detected

If we find possible cancerous areas, we'll take further action. The problem with the mouth is that there are many kinds of sores that can pop up in the mouth, and they're not all cancerous. The only way to be sure is to take a biopsy. During this process, we numb the area and take a sample of the possibly cancerous tissue. Then, we send it to a pathology lab to determine if the sore is in fact cancerous. If it's not, no further action will be taken. If it is, then an oncologist consult is recommended.

How to Reduce the Risk of Oral Cancer

While no cancer can be considered 100% avoidable, there are things you can do to eliminate the risk factors that are associated with oral cancers. To reduce your risk of oral cancer:

  • Stop using tobacco.
  • Drink only in moderation.
  • Avoid excess sun exposure to the lips and use a lip balm with SPF.
  • Get regular dental cleanings along with yearly or cancer screenings.

Screening for Oral Cancer is Vital

Screening for oral cancer is a vital part of any overall oral health regimen. Always be sure that the family dental services offered by your dentist include this incredibly important part of your oral healthcare routine. If they're not, give us a call. We're always happy to talk with your about your continued oral health, screening for cancer, and how we can help you have a healthy mouth now and for years to come.