Oral Cancer Awareness: The Role of Oral Surgeons in Early Detection and Treatment


Oral cancer makes up for about 3 percent of all cancers diagnosed every year in the United States, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). In 2022, there were over 54,000 new cases.

Oral or mouth cancers include lip, gum, jaw, and tongue cancers. These conditions most often occur in individuals who are above 40 years old and affect more than twice the number of men than women. Those who smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, or are exposed to human papillomavirus (HPV) are more at risk of developing oral cancers.

In this article, Dr. Pranathi Reddy Oral Surgeon discusses the essential role of oral surgeons in identifying and treating oral cancers, emphasizing the importance of regular screenings and early intervention.

How Oral Surgeons Detect and Treat Oral Cancers

When it comes to oral cancers, early detection and intervention are most important – according to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER), a database that tracks cancer survival statistics, the stage of cancer at diagnosis strongly influences the length of survival. The 5-year survival rate for localized (stage 1) oral cancer is 86.6 percent.

The Differences Between Oral Surgeons and General Dentists

Many individuals who have oral health care concerns aren’t sure whether to approach their dentist or an oral surgeon.

Dentists are responsible for performing routine oral health care procedures and providing primary preventive and restorative dental care. Dental check-ups, teeth cleanings, and tooth extractions are common procedures done by dentists.

On the other hand, oral surgeons, who are technically referred to as oral and maxillofacial surgeons, have more extensive knowledge. They are specialists who go through 4 to 6 more years of schooling than general dentists.

Oral surgeons train in hospitals and specialize in face, jaw, and mouth issues.


How Oral Surgeons Screen for Cancer

Oral cancer spreads quickly and the oral surgeon plays an important role in detecting early signs and providing immediate treatment. An oral cancer screening test is the best way to find early signs of cancer.

Individuals who experience the following symptoms should visit an oral surgeon for a check-up and diagnosis:

  • An irritation, sore, or lump in the lip, mouth, or throat.
  • A patch in the mouth that’s red or white.
  • Pain or bleeding in the mouth.
  • A lump in the neck.
  • Sore throat that doesn’t go away or the sensation of something stuck in the throat.
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the tongue or jaw
  • Tongue numbness.
  • Ear pain.

If the oral surgeon finds anything unusual, he may order an oral cancer screening dye which involves rinsing the mouth with a special blue dye. If the colored dye appears in the patient’s mouth after the rinse, it means that they gave abnormal cells in the mouth. Other tests used to detect oral cancer include fluorescence staining and exfoliative cytology.

Indeed, oral surgeons are important in the fight against oral cancer, from diagnosis to treatment. Without their intervention, the cancer will be left untreated and will progress quickly, endangering the patient further.

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