How Does Dentist Know if You Have Oral Cancer?

Your dentist will look for signs of oral cancer during a regular exam. Oral cancer often starts as small sores or tiny white or red spots. A dentist is skilled at identifying these and other signs of cancer.

The Screening

The first step in detecting oral cancer is a painless exam. Your dentist can complete a screening in just a few minutes. Dentists will carefully inspect the following areas for sores, spots, and lumps:

  • Your face, neck, lips, and mouth
  • Your jaw and the side of your neck
  • Your tongue
  • The roof and floor of your mouth
  • The back of your throat

Testing for Cancer

Some sores and spots around the mouth are harmless; others are not. When dentists cannot tell what caused a spot or sore, they may perform a brush test. During a brush test, cells from the suspicious areas are removed with a brush and analyzed.

If precancerous cells are found, the lesion can be surgically removed. When found early, oral cancer can be more easily treated.


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