Oral Pathology

Oral pathology is another important service provided by oral surgeons that protects your oral health, and it can even be lifesaving. This type of procedure involves removing unusual tissue and examining it for microscopic signs of malignancy or other oral diseases.

Because the prognosis for oral cancer is much better when it is identified earlier, it’s important to pay attention to any concerning changes in your oral tissues and seek evaluation when you notice them. Furthermore, other issues identified in a biopsy can also be treated before they threaten your oral health.

If you have noticed any strange symptoms in any of your oral tissues and those changes persist for more than a couple of weeks, visit our office for a biopsy. We can determine your diagnosis and recommend effective treatment.

Purpose Of Oral Pathology

Oral pathology techniques are used to evaluate unusual tissue patterns to determine if any oral diseases, such as infections or oral cancer, are present and identify and treat such diseases. The suspicious tissue is removed and evaluated under a microscope to identify any genetic anomalies.

The following tissues may be affected:

  • Lips
  • Tongue
  • Cheeks
  • Palate
  • Gums

An oral surgeon might also remove tissue from elsewhere in the face or neck area for biopsy.

Man holding cheek

The examination of the tissue on a microscopic level is assessing for issues such as the presence of oral bacteria or other indicators of oral diseases, along with changes that indicate a malignancy in the tissue.

Those results can then indicate a treatment approach, such as a course of antibiotics or further surgical intervention. In some cases, patients may be referred to other specialists for appropriate services.

Symptoms That May Require Oral Pathology Services

Patients need to be aware of the signs that a biopsy may be needed. Tissue affected by various oral diseases can present in a number of ways, including:

  • Red patches in the mouth (erythroplasia)
  • White patches in the mouth (leukoplakia)
  • Lump or thickening in the mouth
  • Persistent sore that does not heal
  • Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
  • Difficulty chewing/swallowing

Note that pain may or may not result from a suspicious lesion, so don’t think that you don’t need to be concerned if an unusual-looking spot in your mouth isn’t causing you pain. You should still schedule an appointment with us for further evaluation if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above.

What To Expect from An Oral Pathology Procedure

We obtain oral pathology samples in a brief appointment in our office. Only a small sample of tissue is excised from the patient’s mouth for the initial biopsy, although a subsequent procedure may be needed to remove larger areas of tissue, depending on the biopsy results.

Patients should not expect to experience any discomfort from an oral pathology procedure. We use a local anesthetic to numb the area before removing any suspicious tissue. You may develop some mild discomfort after the anesthetic wears off, but it should be short-lived and can be managed with over-the-counter painkillers.

As we do with all oral surgery procedures, we will provide you with thorough written instructions for self-care after your treatment. These instructions will cover topics like infection prevention and pain management.

It can take a few days for the results of the biopsy to be available. Although the vast majority of oral pathology biopsy results are benign, we realize that this can be an anxious time for patients, so we will inform you of the results as quickly as possible.

While you are awaiting your results, it can be helpful to keep in mind that oral cancer, while serious, is only one of many possible diagnoses that are causing your symptoms.

Importance Of Early Detection of Oral Cancer

While fairly rare, oral cancer is serious, and early detection of it can truly save your life. In patients whose cancer is initially detected in more advanced stages, the life expectancy drops dramatically.

For example, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for localized cancer of the tongue is 82 percent. That rate drops to 20 percent when distant metastases are present.

Therefore, we encourage patients to do a monthly self-check of their oral tissues to monitor for any concerning symptoms or changes. Additionally, your dentist will perform an oral cancer screening at your semi-annual checkups, which is yet another reason why these routine appointments are so important.

We also encourage patients to abstain from tobacco use, including both smoking and chewing tobacco, in order to minimize their risk of developing oral cancer. Limiting alcohol consumption and practicing good oral hygiene can further reduce the risk of oral cancer.