Oral and maxillofacial surgeons (OMS) are the experts for diagnosing and surgically treating pathology of the head, neck and mouth.

What Does Pathology Mean?

Pathology represents any deviation from a healthy, normal condition. Pathology can mean a lot of different things, from tumors to cysts. Tumors can be benign or malignant (cancerous). It’s important to know that while oral cancer is an oral pathology, NOT all oral pathology is cancer. A biopsy will help determine the nature of the condition.

Some of the signs and symptoms of oral, head and neck pathology appear early on – when treatments are most effective. These signs include:

• White patches on oral tissue (leukoplakia)
• Red patches on oral tissue (erythroplakia)
• Mixed white and red patches on oral tissue (erythroleukoplakia)
• Sores (ulcerations), particularly those that bleed easily and have failed to heal
• Abnormal thickening of oral tissue
• Masses or lumps
• Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
• Unexplained numbness
• Other symptoms to watch for include chronic sore throat, hoarseness, or difficulty swallowing or chewing.

Many types of oral, head and neck pathology are benign. However, it may increase the risk of cancer if left untreated. In some cases, the presence of leukoplakia can increase the risk of transforming into a cancerous lesion. These lesions may need ongoing management.

While it might be alarming to find a lump or sore, please remember that it does not automatically indicate the presence of cancer. Your OMS can help diagnose your condition – often through a biopsy of the tissue – and determine your treatment plan.

How to Perform a Monthly Self-exam

Make it a regular routine to perform a self-exam each month. Using a bright light and a mirror, follow these steps:

• Remove any dentures.

• Look and feel inside the lips and the front of the gums.

• Tilt head back to inspect and feel the roof of the mouth.

• Pull the cheek out to see its inside surface as well as the back of the gums.

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