The conventional intra and extra oral head and neck examination is taught in dental and hygiene schools to screen patients for oral cancer and other oral mucosal disease. It normally consists of a visual inspection of oral tissue, or oral mucosa, under incandescent or halogen light using the naked eye to look for suspicious lesions, as well as extra oral palpation of the face and neck to feel for suspicious lumps and intra oral palpation of the mucosa.

So why is it important? A 3-4 minute visual and palpation exam is crucial in the early detection of oral diseases. It is quick to perform, painless for the patient, and enhances the patient experience with the dental practice.

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation nearly 42,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. The percentage of oral cancer patients who ultimately die of the disease is higher than that of many other cancers. The key to reducing the number of lives lost to oral cancer is earlier detection of the disease, and the key to earlier detection is more frequent and more thorough intra and extra oral head and neck exams. Currently, the majority of oral cancers are detected in the later stages, when the five-year survival rate is only about 50 percent. What’s the good news? When discovered early, the survival rate leaps to around 82 percent.

There is a growing body of research available on the importance of the Clinical Oral Exam (COE) and the increased demand for comprehensive COE’s. The results from a recent independent survey have indicated that the majority of patients say they have never had an oral cancer exam. A recent UK survey found that “92% percent of respondents would like their Dentist to tell them if they were being screened for signs of oral cancer and 97% would like help from their Dentists to reduce their risk.” (1)

The take away from this study is that the majority of people are in favor of COE’s and place value in the dental health professional being involved in the oral cancer screening process. Learn how you can improve your COE. Stay ahead of the curve by screening for oral disease and oral cancer using an adjunctive device and help patient outcomes through early detection.

(1)   Oluwatunmise Awojobi*, Suzanne E Scott and Tim Newton, ‘Patients’ Perceptions of Oral Cancer Screening in Dental Practice: a Cross-sectional Study’, (BMC Oral Health 2012),

 * Tissue Fluorescence Image Courtesy of Dr. Samson Ng.

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