Many patients may not even realize it, but during your regular dental checkups, your dentist and dental hygienist are doing more than just cleaning your teeth and checking for problems with your teeth and gums. They’re also screening for more serious issues like oral cancer. 

What is Oral Cavity Cancer?

Oral cavity cancer, or simply oral cancer, involves any cancer that starts in the mouth. These cancers occur most often on the:

  • Tongue
  • Gums
  • The roof of the mouth
  • Under the tongue
  • Lips
  • The inner lining of the cheeks

Risk factors for developing oral cancer include using tobacco products, excessive alcohol consumption, prolonged sun exposure, HPV (human papillomavirus), and a compromised immune system.

How Dentists Perform Oral Cancer Screening

During your routine dental checkup, your dentist will examine your mouth thoroughly to look for irregularities like oral cancer. This involves checking the inside of your mouth for discoloration, sores, or patches. Your dentist may also feel the tissue inside your mouth and tongue to check for abnormalities. 

At Burnaby Heights Dental Centre, we use a VELscope® to look for abnormalities that may not be visible to the unassisted eye. If any abnormalities are found, your dentist may use additional tests, like an oral cancer screening dye to check for abnormal cells or an oral cancer screening light to light up tissues that may be problematic. 

If your dentist determines that there may be a problem, you can expect a follow-up visit to see if the problem cleared up on its own or if it has progressed. Your dentist may also perform a biopsy to remove a sample of cells from the area of concern and have them sent to a lab for testing. Your dentist will refer you to an oral cancer specialist for diagnosis and treatment if cancer cells are present.  

The Importance of Cancer Screening of the Mouth and Tongue

The number one goal of oral cancer screening is early detection. If problems are caught early on, oral cavity cancer treatment can begin right away, increasing the likelihood of a complete cure and quick recovery.

An oral cancer screening takes mere minutes, and dentists can detect over 80% of oral cancers with a simple examination. 

How Can I Prevent Oral Cancers?

There is no guarantee that a person won’t get oral cancer, but luckily, you can do things to help prevent an oral cancer diagnosis.

  1. Don’t use tobacco or, please stop using tobacco products. Smoking or chewing tobacco exposes the tissue and cells in your mouth to hazardous chemicals that cause cancer.
  2. Avoid spending too much time in the sun. Prolonged sun exposure puts your lips at risk of developing skin cancer. Use lip-specific sunscreen and stay in the shade as much as possible if you don’t have an umbrella or large-brimmed hat.
  3. Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation. Excessive alcohol use makes the cells in your mouth vulnerable to irritation and damage. Moderate drinking means one drink a day for women and up to two a day for men. 
  4. Visit your dentist for regular checkups. If your dentist doesn’t already perform an oral cancer screening as part of their routine exam, request it during your appointment. 

Whether you’re concerned about your risk of developing oral cancer or you have other questions, the professional team at Burnaby Heights Dental Centre is available to discuss all your oral health needs. Stop by or contact us today to book an appointment!