What is Oral Pathology?
The inside of the mouth is normally lined with a special type of skin called mucosa which is smooth and coral pink in color. Any alteration in this appearance could be a warning sign for a pathological process. The most serious of these is oral cancer. The following can be signs at the beginning of a pathologic process or cancerous growth:
- Reddish patches (erythroplakia) or whitish patches (leukoplakia) in the mouth
- A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
- A lump or thickening on the mucosa lining the inside of the mouth
- Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
These changes can be detected on the lips, cheeks, palate and gum tissue around the teeth, tongue, face and/or neck. Pain does not always occur with pathology, and curiously, is not often associated with oral cancer. However, any patient with facial and/or oral pain, without an obvious cause or reason, may also be at risk for oral cancer.
We would recommend performing an oral cancer self-examination monthly and remember that your mouth is one of your body’s most important warning systems. Do not ignore suspicious lumps or sores. Please contact us so we may help.
What is a biopsy?
A biopsy is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of a piece of the suspicious tissue; usually part of the lining tissue (mucosa) of the mouth or the underlying bone that has demonstrated possible involvement through the examination process. Fortunately, most biopsies can be carried out in the office setting with Novocain or Lidocaine, a local anesthesia. Upon completion of the biopsy, the harvested piece of tissue, or specimen, is sent to a pathology laboratory for examination where the tissue is handled by a qualified specialist in oral pathology.
What do I expect?
The pathologist will need to process the tissue and then examine the specimen under a microscope. In the majority of cases this tissue processing and examination by the pathologist will require approximately ten days. Great care is taken to ensure and provide an accurate diagnosis. Upon completing the tissue examination, the pathologist will send, fax or telephone a report to your surgeon for review. Any questions that the surgeon may have about the report is then discussed with the pathologist prior to the patient returning to the office.
The report provided to the surgeon by the pathologist not only helps in establishing a diagnosis, but enables him to develop a treatment plan that specifically addresses the type of lesion identified in the diagnosis. Small lesions may have been removed in their entirety during the biopsy while larger lesions may have had only a small portion removed, thereby, requiring additional surgery. Furthermore, it may have been necessary to place sutures (stitches) at the biopsy site which will need to be removed at a future appointment. In any case, the patient is required to return to the office to review the results of the biopsy procedure and discuss the need for future treatment if that is deemed necessary.
What Are the Risk Factors for Oral Cancer?
By far the most common is the chronic use of tobacco and alcohol. Other factors include poor oral hygiene, irritation caused by ill-fitting dentures, rough surfaces on teeth, poor nutrition and/or any combination of the above. Despite what you may hear, studies have shown that the death rate from oral cancer is about four times greater for cigarette smokers than that for nonsmokers.
While it is widely held in the medical coronal conditions of the body. It follows logically then that oral pathology is the branch of the dental profession that deals with diseases and abnormal conditions of the oral cavity (mouth) as well as the adjacent areas of the head and neck. These maladies can range from a simple disease process such as an infected tooth and benign growth to life-threatening malignancy such as oral cancer.
Unlike some other less conspicuous locations in the body, we benefit significantly from the fact that the mouth is so easily accessible. This allows abnormalities to be easily detected in their early stage of development. To add to this good fortune, the majority of the disease processes in this region are benign, non-cancerous and are remedied by either medication or simple surgical procedures.