Pathological changes in the oral region can cause alarm, which is why an oral exam and oral cancer screening are an important routine for your health. The soft tissue of the mouth is normally lined with mucosa, a specific type of skin that appears smooth and pink. Any alteration of that texture or color could signal the beginning of a pathologic process—most seriously oral cancer, but any number of problems, including:
- Geographic Tongue: Also known as Benign Migratory Glossitis or Erythema Migrans, it is a condition where the tongue is missing papillae, small bumps, in different areas, and a map-like appearance can develop, hence the name. This condition is usually seen as well-defined, red areas on the top or sides of the tongue. They may come and go from hours to months at a time, and cause increased sensitivity to certain substances.
- Median Palatal Cyst: This cyst is of developmental origin and is essentially a fluid-filled skin sac. It usually appears in the middle of the palate and may cause substantial discomfort.
- Hairy Tongue: An overgrowth of bacteria or a yeast infection in the mouth can cause the tongue to appear hairy and black. This condition is usually the result of poor oral hygiene, chronic or extensive use of antibiotics, or radiation treatments to the head or neck. It may or may not require treatment.
Most of the time, pathological changes in the oral region are uncomfortable and/or disfiguring, but not life threatening. However, oral cancer is on the rise, particularly among men—but the chances of survival are around 80% if an immediate diagnosis is made. Oral cancer is a general term used for any type of cancer affecting the tongue, jaw, and lower cheek area; if you notice changes in this region, seek treatment so your dentist can take a biopsy.
For less serious problems, there are several options:
- Antibiotics: In the case of a bacterial infection or persistent soreness, the dentist may prescribe a dose of antibiotics to return the mucosa to its natural state. This will alleviate soreness and discomfort.
- Diluted hydrogen peroxide: When poor oral hygiene impacts the soft tissue, the dentist may prescribe a diluted hydrogen peroxide mouthwash, which will kill more bacteria than regular mouthwash, as well as improve halitosis (bad breath).
- Oral surgery: If the patient has cysts or abnormal, non-cancerous growths, the dentist may decide to completely remove them. Depending on the cyst’s location, this can improve comfort levels, alleviate breathing problems, and make speech significantly easier.
During routine oral examinations, your dentist will thoroughly inspect the soft tissue of the mouth. If there are cell changes present, he or she will take a biopsy to be analyzed, and decide on a course of treatment after receiving the results. Oral cancer screenings are usually performed during a comprehensive exam, using a laser light to assess the tissue. If a biopsy is taken and returns malignant, an excision, or removal, will generally be performed.
If you are experiencing any pain or symptoms, we encourage you to contact us today to schedule an appointment.