Pathology refers to a change in characteristics of the normally appearing tissue. The tissues that we refer to are the soft tissues of the mouth (the mucosa) and the hard tissues (bones and teeth). The majority of the changes that occur in these tissues are benign and generally do not cause any long term problems. Occasionally, these changes can be dangerous and could cause serious health problems in the future. For this reason, it is important to investigate any of these changes and, if appropriate, take appropriate steps to determine their level of importance on your future health.
The inside of the mouth is normally lined with a special type of skin (mucosa) that is smooth and 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 (erythroplasia) or whitish patches (leukoplakia) in the mouth
• A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
• A lump or thickening on the skin 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 recommend performing 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.
Certain conditions and substances can cause oral cancers or tumors, thus may predispose you to these problems. Tobacco and alcohol can induce cancerous changes, and are thus carcinogens to the mouth. Smoking and chewing tobacco are the most common culprits, and in the presence of alcohol, especially in the concentrated forms, are especially dangerous.
Most lumps and bumps that form in the mouth are in fact not cancerous, and only a small percentage are dangerous. Unfortunately, some of these harmless lumps and bump can transform into cancers, especially if tobacco and/or alcohol use occurs. The only way to be truly safe is to have the bump evaluated and removed if needed. Most procedures can be done with local anesthesia. The removal of the lesion any consist of either a portion or the entire lesion being removed. Drs. Gorab, Marsh and Scoggins will decide on the correct treatment to be done. Short or long-term follow-up evaluations may be suggested to evaluate the recurrence or progression of any suspicious lesions.
The hard tissues of the mouth consist of the bones and teeth. Generally these tissues are uniform in their consistency. Yet there are changes that can occur with these tissues as well. Unlike the soft tissue evaluation which is done by a thorough oral examination, the evaluation of the hard tissues is done by x-ray evaluation and visualization of the area.
A change in the density of the hard tissues and the pattern of change is important in this type of evaluation. The appearance of a dark or light area on your x-rays indicates whether the bone is dense or hollow. Many times, these dark areas can be circular in nature indicating a cyst. Other times, a very white area will be indicating too dense an area of bone. Many factors contribute to the characteristics of a hard tissue lesion and Drs Gorab, Marsh and Scoggins will combine all of these characteristics to determine what, if any, further evaluation is needed.
The teeth, as well, will be evaluated by x-rays. Infections, abscesses, cysts, changes in the shape or density of the root or crown structure can all be evaluated by this method. Most times, unless the tooth is severely affected, the tooth can be treated and this will preserve the tooth. Occasionally the root or tooth may be affected to such a degree that removal of the tooth may be your only option. On occasion, the changes of the root or tooth may be associated with changes in the bone and both would be treated.
Again, most changes that occur in the oral hard and soft tissues are benign. Yet if any changes do occur, it is very important to investigate these changes to determine their impact on your long term dental or general health.