Preventing Oral Cancer: Screenings and Check-Ups

Oral Cancer Screening Mountain View, CA

The risk for oral cancer increases with the use of tobacco or heavy consumption of alcohol. People with human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease, are also at increased risk, as are people over the age of 55. Nevertheless, risk factors are not always present prior to a diagnosis of mouth cancer. According to the Prevent Cancer Foundation, approximately 25% of those diagnosed exhibit no risk factors at all.

Cancer of the mouth is easier to treat and remove if it is detected early. However, there may not be symptoms evident when the cancer is in its early stages, or the symptoms may be too subtle to detect easily. Dentists typically perform oral cancersscreenings during routine check-ups. If there are troubling signs upon examination, further testing may be needed.

Oral screenings

Dentists recommend that patients perform a monthly self-check of the mouth to look for signs of mouth cancer. A formal screening also typically takes place during an annual or semi-annual dental examination. Therefore, it is important to have these on a regular basis.


A patient can perform a self-check by looking at the mouth in a mirror and looking for unusual signs. These may include lumps in the mouth, white patches or sores. Any unusual symptoms should be evaluated by a dentist as soon as possible.

Dental exam

A dentist performing a screen for oral cancer during a dental examination will be looking for the same troubling signs. The screening includes both a visual examination and palpation, during which the dentist feels inside the mouth manually for unusual lumps or bumps.

Oral screening from a dentist has several advantages over a self-check. For one thing, the dentist has an objective view of the mouth that is difficult to achieve with a self-check. For another, the dentist has specific training at recognizing abnormalities that may prove to be oral cancer. However, because harmless abnormalities can mimic the appearance of malignant ones, further tests may be needed to detect and diagnose cancer of the mouth.

Further tests

There are several different screening tests that dentists may perform to detect oral cancer. One of these is the light test. The dentist shines a special light in the patient's mouth. Abnormal areas of possible malignancy show up white under the light, while normal tissue takes on a dark aspect.

Another screening test is a dye test. This requires the patient to rinse their mouth with a special blue dye. Normal cells do not take up the blue dye, but abnormal cells might, meaning that the area of abnormality may turn blue because of the dye.

However, not all abnormalities in the mouth are cancerous. To determine whether the lesion is cancerous or precancerous, the dentist must take a biopsy. This involves gently scraping away some cells and sending them to a lab for analysis under a microscope. Microscopic examination can demonstrate definitively whether the cells are malignant.


Oral cancer that is not diagnosed early can spread to other areas of the body. This makes it much harder to treat. Catching cancer early typically improves the long-term prognosis, i.e., chance for recovery.

Request an appointment here: or call Smiles Dental Care at (650) 563-1180 for an appointment in our Mountain View office.

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