Oral pathology is a specialty of dentistry that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of oral diseases, including oral cancer. Oral pathologists are involved in the research, diagnosis, examination and treatment of oral disease.
Role of the Oral Pathologist
Oral pathologists check for and diagnose both malignant and benign oral conditions. Oral pathologists deal with conditions that include:
- Oral cancer
- Salivary problems
- Canker sores
- Fungal infections
- Oral thrush
- Cold sores
- Herpes of the mouth
- Bad breath
When a patient has a suspicious growth in, or condition of, the mouth, determining the cause is essential. Symptoms, such as lesions, that seem minor can be indicative of a more serious problem. To ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate care, patients should be examined by an oral pathologist or oral disease specialist.
Oral Evaluation and Oral Cancer Screening
Because many people do not realize they have oral cancer, a diagnosis may not be made until the problem has become more advanced, making treatment more difficult. With early detection of oral cancer and precancerous oral conditions, there is a higher probability that they will be cured. Regular dental examinations are an invaluable part of early cancer detection and treatment.
Oral cancer screenings may include visual examinations, biopsies and other diagnostic tests. These tests can be successful in detecting early indicators of cancer, thereby increasing the effectiveness of treatment. All patients, especially those at a higher risk for developing the disease, should be screened for oral cancer at least once a year. Those at higher risk for developing oral cancer include people who:
- Are older than 40
- Consume excessive amounts of alcohol
- Have a history of oral cancer
- Have an oral HPV infection
Treatment can be effective as long as oral cancer is detected early.
When a growth or sore of a questionable nature is detected in the mouth, a biopsy is often done. A biopsy is a diagnostic test in which a tissue sample is removed, and examined under a microscope. A biopsy identifies abnormal cells, and screens for cancer and other problems. An oral biopsy is performed in one of two ways:
Incisional Oral Biopsy
An incisional biopsy removes part of a larger mass. The sample of that tissue is then used to determine whether the mass is malignant or benign.
Excisional Oral Biopsy
An excisional biopsy removes the entire lump or suspicious growth. An excisional biopsy is usually performed when the lump or growth is small.
An oral exam is the best defense against dental problems, and it is the best opportunity to detect oral diseases. While there is no way to prevent cancer, early detection is essential in its successful treatment. Regular oral cancer screenings can help spot any abnormalities or changes before symptoms appear.
- Medline Plus
- National Institutes of Health
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- U.S. National Library of Medicine