The oral cavity, jaws, and facial bones can be affected by a wide variety of cysts, tumors, and other pathology that is often not found anywhere else in the body. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons have received extensive training and hands-on experience in the diagnosis and treatment of many of these conditions. In some cases, your oral surgeon may be able to make a diagnosis of certain types of pathology without needing a biopsy, and some conditions require no treatment at all. In other cases, you may require a biopsy, in which either the entire lesion or a small piece of it is sent to an Oral Pathologist, who can make a more definitive diagnosis using a microscope or other special tests.
In many cases, your dentist or dental hygienist will probably be the first to notice anything out of the ordinary during a routine exam. The inside of the mouth is normally lined with a special type of skin (mucosa) that is smooth and coral pink in color. Any alteration in this appearance could be a warning sign for a pathological process. The vast majority of oral pathology is benign and usually treated with conservative surgery by your oral surgeon, but there are also several types of cancer that can occur in the mouth and jaws. The following can be signs at the beginning of a pathological process or cancerous growth:
- Reddish patches (erythroplakia) or whitish patches (leukoplakia) in the mouth
- A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
- A lump or thickening on the skin lining the inside of the mouth
- Chronic sore throat or hoarseness and/or difficulty in chewing or swallowing
These changes can be detected on the lips, cheeks, palate, and gum tissue around the teeth, tongue, face, and/or neck. Pain does not always occur with pathology, and is not often associated with oral cancer. However, any patient with facial and/or oral pain without an obvious cause or reason may also be at risk for oral cancer.
We would recommend performing an oral cancer self-examination monthly. Remember that your mouth is one of your body’s most important warning systems. Do not ignore suspicious lumps or sores. See your dentist regularly for routine exams. If you have any concerns, please contact us so we can assist you with any questions.