How Does An Oral Cancer Screening Work?

Posted on: 14 July 2016

A dentist, such as Peak Family Dentistry & Orthodontics, can perform an oral cancer screening test to diagnose whether a patient's mouth has any signs of precancerous conditions after the patient is over the age of 16. Early detection gives you a better chance if abnormal cells are present. However, some organizations may be hesitant to recommend or pay for the screening if certain risk factors are not present. Read on to learn more about the risk factors, as well as the screening process itself.

Risk Factors

Unfortunately, studies have not proven the benefits of screening, but some factors that make the risk higher may include the use of alcohol and tobacco products, such as cigarettes, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, cigars, and several others. Lip cancer may be increased if you have fair skin or spend excessive amounts of time in the sun. Those with the above risk factors should consult with a dentist to make a decision regarding the benefits of screening for oral cancer.


There are no special preparations for the testing because they are done in the dentist's office. The procedure begins by checking your mouth for white or red sores. The dentist uses his hands to determine whether any tissues in your mouth have any abnormal lumps.

If you have a partial or full dentures, you will need to remove them so the area under them can also be examined.  Some dentists may ask you to rinse with a special blue dye to illuminate any of abnormal cells. Healthy tissues will appear dark with the use of a light, and abnormal ones will be white.

The Process

The dentist will go through a series of steps to screen for oral cancer. First, they will observe the neck and face for swelling or abnormal skin areas. Then, they will check for changes in texture or color of the mouth or lips. The lymph nodes in the neck will be palpated for any abnormalities or enlargement. Finally, all areas of the mouth are examined.


If problems are found from the tests or the test results are abnormal, a follow-up visit is recommended. An exam will be performed to discover whether anything has changed. At that time, a biopsy may be performed. A few cells will be collected and sent to a laboratory to decide whether the cells are cancerous. Your regular dentist might be able to do the test. If not, a specialist will be referred to you for the additional testing.

Oral cancer screening should be performed if advised by your dentist or physician. The procedure is painless, and it is worth the peace of mind, especially if you have any of the risk factors.