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What is Oral Cancer Screening?

Oral cancer exam

Oral cancer screening is an examination performed by a dentist. The screening determines whether there’s any sign of cancer or precancerous conditions in your mouth. Aims Dentistry supports oral cancer research and urges everyone to have a regular oral cancer screening to ensure you remain healthy. The goal of the screening is to identify mouth cancer as early as possible. The examination is performed during your regular visit to screen oral cancer. Sometimes, your dentist will perform additional tests to identify areas of abnormal growth in your mouth. According to the British Columbia Cancer Research Center, almost 3200 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed in Canada each year. Oral cancer is the sixth most common type of cancer in Canada. The oral cancer screening can help detect approximately 84% of oral cancer early. The dental professional will check for any abnormalities, red, white or grey areas and tenderness.

Why is it done?

The examination helps determine mouth cancer or pre-cancerous lesions that can lead to mouth cancer. If this is detected earlier, your dental surgeon can easily remove cancer or lesions. People with a high risk of cancer can benefit from oral cancer screening. There are a few other factors that can increase the risk of oral cancer including:

  • Use of alcohol
  • Tobacco use including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff.
  • Sun exposure, which increases the risk of lip cancer.

Performing an oral cancer self-check

You can also perform a self checkup in between your screening. Here’s who can check for the same:

  • Use an oral mirror (you can easily get one at a drugstore). This helps in easily inspecting the mouth.
  • Make sure to have a bright light.
  • Check for lumps, bumps or any unusual tenderness in your mouth. To check your tongue, press it between your thumb and forefinger.
  • Grasp a gauze for examining your tongue. Say “ahh” to check the back of your tongue and throat.
  • Check for any spotted or discolored areas. Be regular so you can differentiate if anything is normal or not.

Although not all abnormalities are diagnosed with oral cancer. It is still advised that if you do find any suspicious area, get it checked by your dentist to rule out any cancerous lesions.

During oral cancer screening

  • The dentist will examine and inspect your gums and cheeks.
  • They will further inspect the roof and the floor of your mouth.
  • He/she will touch and inspect the lymph nodes in your neck and jaw.
  • Examine the inside and outside of your lips and the areas around your ears.
  • Inspect your face for any signs of swelling.
  • Pull out tongue with gauze and inspect sides, bottom and top.
  • The dentist will ask about your drinking and/or smoking habits. Also, they ask for the specific health conditions or medications you are taking.


There are some limitations to oral cancer screening:

  • Many people have sores in their mouth, with many being non-cancerous. Oral cancer examination cannot determine which sores are cancerous and which aren’t. Which means, if you do have sores, you’ll need to go on additional tests. The best way to determine what the unusual growth actually is by removing it and testing it for cancer by biopsy.
  • Your dentist can’t determine abnormal cells just by looking at your mouth. If the cancer or lesion is small it can go undetected.
  • There is no evidence that routine checkup can reduce the risk of oral cancer. However, screening can help find the cancer cell in the early stage.


If there is any sign of mouth cancer, your dentist will recommend:

  • A follow-up visit to see if the abnormal area is still present and to see if it is further grown.
  • A biopsy procedure for testing the sample of cells and test whether it is cancerous or not.

Oral cancer examination must be done every six months for early cancer detection. It is best if you go for a routine checkup, as early cancer detection and treatment will have a positive outcome.

Request an appointment

We’re always accepting new patients, and we’re always excited to meet Mississauga families who are looking for a better dental care experience. Whether you’d like to visit for a check-up and cleaning or more complex treatment, get in touch today!