At National Dental Williston Park, we provide you with oral exams, which allow us to detect issues in their earliest stages, and take the appropriate measures to treat them. We look at your teeth, checking for damage and decay. We look over your gums for signs of infection. As a part of your oral exam, we also perform an oral cancer screening.

What is Oral Cancer?

Every year, oral cancer affects approximately 40,000 Americans across the country. Oral cancer can strike anywhere in the mouth, including your lips, tongue, gums, palate, the floor of the mouth and near the entrance to the throat. It is a deadly disease, especially if it’s not detected (and treated) early. Only half of those diagnosed annually survive past five years. Early detection is essential for increasing your chances of remission.

Risk Factors for Oral Cancer

There are numerous factors that can increase your risk of developing oral cancer:

  • Smoking. There are thousands of chemicals in cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes, or using any other tobacco products, can greatly increase your risk. Approximately 90% of all oral cancer patients have been smokers.
  • Excessive drinking. Approximately 70% to 80% of oral cancer patients have been heavy drinkers at some point.
  • Smoking and drinking. If you both smoke and drink heavily, your risk is increased exponentially.
  • Family history. When someone in your family has been diagnosed with oral cancer, you have a higher risk.
  • Certain strains of HPV.
  • Your age. The older you are, the higher your risk.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

While we check your mouth for signs of oral cancer, these signs will not always wait until your regularly scheduled dental exams. It is important to know what to look for so that you can call National Dental right away:

  • Sores that refuse to heal (longer than two weeks).
  • Red, white, or other unusual growths/patches on your soft tissues.
  • Trouble with normal functions, such as chewing, speaking or swallowing.
  • Changes in your bite (or in the way your dentures fit).
  • Numb chin and jaw.

How is Oral Cancer Diagnosed?

A visual exam is only a part of the diagnostic process. During your regular oral exams, we check the soft tissues of your mouth, checking for anything unusual. We also examine your face and neck, checking for signs of swelling. If we notice anything unusual, we will perform the further examination. This involves the use of digital imaging to get a closer look at the structures under your gum line.

One of the most important diagnostic tools we have is a soft tissue biopsy. A biopsy is used to diagnose or rule out oral cancer. We remove a section of the tissue from the lesion on your soft tissue to examine under a microscope. There are a few different types of soft tissue biopsy:

  • Incisional biopsy. This type of biopsy is done on larger lesions and is often referred to as a diagnostic biopsy.
  • Excisional biopsy. This biopsy is done on smaller lesions, and may even be used to remove the whole section.
  • Punch biopsy. This biopsy involves the use of a special punch tool that removes several layers of tissue.
  • Brush biopsy. Rather than removing a section of tissue, a brush biopsy uses a brush to simply remove some cells from the lesion.

If you notice anything strange in your mouth, don’t wait until your next dental visit to bring it up. Call National Dental Williston Park right away at (516) 686-9780.