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Oral Pathology

An oral evaluation is commonly used by the dentist at the same time as an initial full exam. An oral cancer exam refers to the management and identification of diseases pertaining to the oral and maxillofacial areas.

The soft tissue of the mouth is commonly covered with mucosa, which is special kind of tissue that should appear pink in color and smooth in texture. Any change of the texture or color of the mucosa may result in the start of a pathologic analysis. These changes can happen on the neck, face, and portions of the mouth (e.g., tongue, lips, gums, etc.). The most complicated and serious of these pathologic changes is oral cancer, but there are also many other unusual pathologic diseases.

Geographic Tongue – Commonly known as Erythema Migrans or Benign Migratory Glossitis is a problem where the tongue has no papillae (small bumps) in different sites, and a map-like appearance can happen. This situation is commonly seen as red areas on or near the sides of the tongue. The red areas can arise and go from hours to months at a time and result in increased sensitivity to certain products.

Median Palatal Cyst – This cyst is a fluid filled sac appearing on the top of the palate and is developmental in origin. It can become very uncomfortable. It may need to be biopsied.

Hairy Tongue – A yeast infection or overgrowth of bacteria which can result in the tongue appearing black and hairy. This condition is usually a result of radiation treatments to the neck or head, extensive or chronic use of antibiotics, or the result of poor oral hygiene. It is often also seen in intravenous drug users and those who are HIV positive patients. This condition may or may not need treatment.

How are pathological diseases treated?

In most cases, the oral changes experienced in the mouth can be uncomfortable and disfiguring, but not life threatening. However, oral cancer is on the rise (men are more common) and the possibility of survival is around 75% if an immediate diagnosis is made.

Oral cancer is a common term used when referring to any kind of cancer affecting the jaw, lower cheek area, and tongue. Since it is nearly impossible for the dentist to decisively diagnose most pathological diseases without taking a biopsy sample of the noted area, seeking immediate treatment when changes are seen can be a life and death decision. For non serious problems, there are several options to be selected, such as:

  • Antibiotics – In the case of consistent soreness or bacterial infection, the dentist may prescribe a regiman of antibiotics to return the mucosa to its natural state. This will help with the discomfort and soreness.
  • Diluted Hydrogen Peroxide – With improper oral hygiene resulting in changes to the soft tissue, the dentist can prescribe a diluted hydrogen peroxide rinse. This will eliminate some bacteria better than common OTC mouthwash and better one's bad breath (halitosis). 
  • Oral Surgery – If the patient has abnormal non-cancerous growths or cysts, Dr. Braithwaite or a referring oral surgeon can decide to completely remove them. This can better alleviate breathing problems, make speech easier, and improve comfort levels. It is somewhat dependent on the location of the cyst.

Oral Examinations

During your check up, Dr. Braithwaite will thoroughly look at the soft tissue of the mouth and take any notes of any changes. If there are cell changes existing, Dr. Braithwaite will take a biopsy of the noted area and send it away to be diagnosed by laboratory professionals. When definitive findings are returned, the dentist can decide on the best regimen for treatment.

Oral Cancer Screenings

An oral cancer screening is usually typically done during a full or check-up (recall) exam. Screening is easy and only takes several minutes. Dr. Braithwaite and the hygienist will use a laser type light to evaluate the soft tissue for cell changes that might indicate oral cancer. If such cell changes are found, a small biopsy will be made and reviewed by a local laboratory. If the biopsy shows that oral cancer is present, an excision (removal) will typically be the procedure of choice.

If you are experiencing any symptoms or pain that cause you concern, Dr. Braithwaite would encourage you to contact us right away to make an appointment.