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Oral, Head and Neck Pathology

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. 

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OMS Voices Preview: What to Do When You Find a Bump in Your Mouth

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. 

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OMS Voices Preview: What to Do When You Find a Bump in Your Mouth

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.
  • Pull out the tongue and look at all of its surfaces.
  • Feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) in both sides of the neck, including under the lower jaw.

Your mouth is one of your body’s most important early warning systems. If you discover a suspicious lump, sore or lesion, promptly make an appointment for an examination. Early detection and treatment may well be the key to complete recovery. 

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Last updated May 2021

The information provided here is not intended as a substitute for professional medical or dental advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is provided to help you communicate effectively when you seek the advice of your oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Photos and videos are for illustration purposes only and are not indicative to what a patient may experience.