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Oral Cancer Exam

According to research conducted by the American Cancer Society, more than 30,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year.  More than 7,000 of these cases result in the death of the patient.  The good news is that oral cancer can easily be diagnosed with an annual oral cancer exam, and effectively treated when caught in its earliest stages.

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 critically 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
  • Oropharyngeal Region (throat)
  • Gums
  • Face

 Reasons for oral cancer examinations

It is important to note that around 75 percent 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 scrutinizing the maxillofacial and oral regions carefully for signs of pathologic changes.

The following signs will be investigated 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.

 Oral cancer exams, diagnosis and treatment

The oral cancer examination is a completely painless process.  During the visual part of the examination, the dentist will look for any abnormalities. If abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia or lumps are apparent, Dr. Dahm will perform laser treatment on the area and send it off to the lab for a biopsy. The biopsy includes a clinical evaluation which will identify the precise stage and grade of the oral lesion.

Oral cancer is deemed to be present when the basement membrane of the epithelium has been broken.  Malignant types of cancer can readily spread to other places in the oral and maxillofacial regions, posing additional secondary threats.  Treatment methods vary according to the precise diagnosis, but may include excision, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

During bi-annual check-ups, the dentist and hygienist will thoroughly look for changes and lesions in the mouth, but a dedicated comprehensive oral cancer screening should be performed at least once each year.

If you have any questions or concerns about oral cancer, please contact our practice.


Read what people are saying about us.

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After many years of being self-conscious about my smile due to an overbite and overlapping teeth, I decided to have a consult about having braces (preferably Invisalign). Due to all the correction needed, wire braces were my only option. After 5 years of various correction procedures I am now proud of my smile. Dr. Jeff and the staff were always prompt and very encouraging during each visit.

~Sandy V.S.

I had an appointment this morning for a crown prep. I was seated a few minutes before my actual appointment time. I was seen immediately by the assistant who prepped me for my local anesthetic. The anesthetic was given gently and painlessly. When I was thoroughly numb the procedure was started and finished in a shorter time than I had thought it might be. I was happy with all the services I received. Everyone from office staff to those assisting and performing the services were courteous and efficient. Dr. Dahm was his usual friendly professional self. I would recommend this dental practice to anyone needing dental care.

~Sue S. (October 2016)

I know, through my own work experience, that working with the public can be trying at times, and sometimes it is difficult not to fall into a "negative" mode, which really does none of us any good. I am not sure whether a "negative" atmosphere shows its face when dealing with people, as much as a "positive" atmosphere does, or not. I am inclined to think not, but anyway, I would like to say that I am proud of everyone in your office, for creating and keeping that "positive" atmosphere, for all of us patients, because it truly does make a difference in the way we feel while we are there, and when we leave the office. I don't ever remember giggling several times during a dentist appointment, but couldn't help myself yesterday morning, as Dr. Dahm moved through the office, greeting, reassuring, and caring for people. The girls who helped me through the x-rays, molds, and other necessary procedures were awesome, as well! "Good Job", "You're doing great", etc., while in a place where most people are a little uncomfortable, at best, is so nice to hear. And, when I was confused about just where in my mouth my filling would go, the girls were so kind in explaining that they really were going to work on the correct tooth. LOL! I am running on here, but I think too often in business, the main feedback that people get, is the negative stuff. I have always tried to counter that, by letting people know when I really do appreciate what they have done "for" me, instead of "to" me, and I will be the first to admit that trust does not always come easy for me - just the way I am. And, I feel that an establishment's "true colors" show in instances like I had yesterday, when I needed some reassurance that everything was okay. I am so appreciative of the way everyone handled that (sorry that I took up precious time), but now I know, that if/when I truly do need help, it will be there, and given in a kind and understanding manner. That means a LOT to me! So, in closing, in the middle of the night, during my usual "awake" time, I just kept thinking WOW! I just don't know of a better way to express my feelings! And, of course, THANK YOU to everyone in that office, because it takes every person in an environment like that to maintain a caring and positive atmosphere! I notice and I appreciate all of it, and I would recommend anyone I know to become a patient there!

Pam B.

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