Oral Cancer Exam

“What is she doing? ”   “What is she touching my neck like that?”   “My old office never did that!”

Many times when I start at a new office I will need to explain to a patient that exams may be done that they’ve never experienced before.

With oral cancer on the rise due to the HPV virus we as clinicians know that all patients should be screened for oral cancer.

Most people don’t look inside their own mouths, not even when brushing or flossing. That is why we, as dental hygienists, are trained to. It is important that we see every millimeter of tissue when looking for lesions that you may not even recognize as being significant at all. Palpating (touching) and visually observing your tissue are the two most important first steps in catching oral cancer early.

Observing a patient’s features is the first exam we perform. Do the facial features look symmetrical? Are there any discolorations we may need to investigate?

Palpation, or touching, is another feature of this exam. Your hygienist will start by standing in front of you and palpate your head, temples and neck. Then traveling to the side, begin to feel your throat, under your tongue, your cheeks and lips. Using a gauze pad your tongue will be moved from side to side to see underneath it and ask you to say “AHH!” to check the back of your throat.

Patients are instructed to advise their dental professionals immediately if an area looks white or red or if changes in voice begin to occur.

Insist that this is a part of your overall exam whenever you visit your dental hygienist.