The Most Advanced and Experienced Periodontal and Dental Implant Practice in the Houston Area

Oral Cancer Exam

Dr. Heaton performs oral cancer reviews. Oral cancer is increasing in prevalence.

The examination is conducted with the patient seated. Any intraoral prostheses (dentures or partial dentures) are removed before starting the examination. The extraoral and perioral tissues are examined first, followed by the intraoral tissues


FACE: The extraoral assessment includes an inspection of the face, head, and neck. The face, ears, and neck are observed, noting any asymmetry or changes on the skin such as crusts, fissuring, growths, and/or color change. The regional lymph node areas are bilaterally palpated to detect any enlarged nodes, and if detected, their mobility and consistency. A recommended order of examination includes the preauricular, submandibular, anterior cervical, posterior auricular, and posterior cervical regions.

The perioral and intraoral examination procedure follows a seven-step systematic assessment of the lips; labial mucosa and sulcus; commissures, buccal mucosa, and sulcus; gingiva and alveolar ridge; tongue; floor of the mouth; and hard and soft palate.

LIPS: Begin examination by observing the lips with the patient’s mouth both closed and open. Note the color, texture and any surface abnormalities of the upper and lower vermilion borders.

LABIAL MUCOSA: With the patient’s mouth partially open, visually examine the labial mucosa and sulcus of the maxillary vestibule and frenum and the mandibular vestibule. Observe the color, texture, and any swelling or other abnormalities of the vestibular mucosa and gingiva.

BUCCAL MUCOSA: Retract the buccal mucosa. Examine first the right then the left buccal mucosa extending from the labial commissure and back to the anterior tonsillar pillar. Note any change in pigmentation, color, texture, mobility and other abnormalities of the mucosa, making sure that the commissures are examined carefully and are not covered by the retractors during the retraction of the cheek.

GlNGlVA: First, examine the buccal and labial aspects of the gingiva and alveolar ridges (processes) by starting with the right maxillary posterior gingiva and alveolar ridge and then move around the arch to the left posterior area. Drop to the left mandibular posterior gingiva and alveolar ridge and move around the arch to the right posterior area. Second, examine the palatal and lingual aspects as had been done on the facial side, from right to left on the palatal (maxilla) and left to right on the lingual (mandible).

With the patient’s tongue at rest, and mouth partially open, inspect the dorsum of the tongue for any swelling, ulceration, coating or variation in size, color, or texture. Also note any change in the pattern of the papillae covering the surface of the tongue and examine the tip of the tongue. The patient should then protrude the tongue, and the examiner should note any abnormality of mobility or positioning. (Figure 9) With the aid of mouth mirrors, inspect the right and left lateral margins of the tongue. (Figure 10) Grasping the tip of the tongue with a piece of gauze will assist full protrusion and will aid examination of the more posterior aspects of the tongue’s lateral borders. (Figure 11) Then examine the ventral surface. Palpate the tongue to detect growths.

With the tongue still elevated, inspect the floor of the mouth for changes in color, texture, swellings, or other surface abnormalities.

With the mouth wide open and the patient’s head tilted back, gently depress the base of the tongue with a mouth mirror. First inspect the hard and then the soft palate. Examine all soft palate and oropharyngeal tissues. Bimanually palpate the floor of the mouth for any abnormalities. All mucosal or facial tissues that seem to be abnormal should be palpated.