Excuse me, what’s that on my tongue?

As we come to the end of Oral Cancer Awareness month, I’m sure you are happy with the overwhelming amount of knowledge you have gained about oral cancer.  Now that you are scared silly, you may be asking yourself what your West Seattle dentist Dr. Christine Kirchner does to detect oral cancer in her patients.  You’ll be happy to know that with every exam she does, she is screening all of her patients for oral cancer, or any other abnormalities that occur in the mouth.  Here’s what happens:

Whether a brand spanking new patient, or one faithfully returning for a cleaning, Dr. Kirchner or her hygienists will ask you a couple of questions, such as “Have you noticed any sores that won’t heal in your mouth?” and  “Do you have problems swallowing?”.  While asking these questions, they will usually be gently feeling around your jaw at the base of your head where it meets your neck to see if they feel any swelling.  This area contains some of your lymph nodes, and if something with your body is out of whack, they may be a little swollen.  If Dr. Kirchner feels anything out of the ordinary, she’ll note it and continue to investigate to see what may be the source.

Dr. Kirchner will then take a look inside of your mouth.  She’ll have you stick out your tongue so that she can check to see if she sees anything out of the ordinary, and also have you do the proverbial “ahhhh”.  This helps her look at your throat to make sure nothing (like tonsils) is swollen.  Dr. Kirchner will also note if she sees any sores on your lips or bite marks on your cheeks.

Twice a year, Dr. Kirchner will also use what’s called a Velscope to aid her in screening you for oral cancer or any other soft tissue (read: tongue and cheek areas)abnormalities in your mouth.  A Velscope is like a flash light she shines in your mouth while she’s looking at your tongue and throat.  What it does is makes areas that have increased blood flow to them (read: areas that might be pre-cancerous) look different.  If you look at the picture below, on the left are tongues that look just normal.  But when you look at the same areas under the Velscope, on the right, you can see dark spots, which means increased blood flow, which means something’s going on.

west seattle dentistLeft: Normal looking tongues               Right: uh oh! What’s up?

Now usually, what it might mean is you’ve burned the roof of your mouth drinking much too hot coffee, or tried to swallow fire (a true story!) or you’ve bit your cheek and its healing.  If the next time she checks both with the naked eye and the Velscope and the same spot has the same unusual look to it, she will most likely recommend the next step, which is getting it looked at by an oral surgeon.  Wait! It’s not as scary as it sounds.  They’ll just do a simple biopsy to test the tissue to make sure nothing’s going on.  If they do determine something is going on, Dr. Kirchner will be able to make a plan with you for what the next steps should be.

With regular visits to Dr. Kirchner and her staff, you can have peace of mind knowing  that you have been thoroughly  screened for oral cancer using the latest technology to aid in its detection.

If you’d like more information on what the Velscope is and how it works go to their website at www.velscope.com.