How Our Dentists Screen for Oral Cancer

A woman waiting for her VELscope oral cancer screening in the dental office

Did you know most dentists check for oral cancer during your dental exams?

Dentists are frequently the first type of doctor to notice precancerous and cancerous signs in the mouth. This early detection makes all the difference in survival rate!

In this blog, we’ll tell you the basics of oral cancer and how dentists screen for it.

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer pertains to cancer that develops in any part of your mouth, including:

  • Lips
  • Gums
  • Tongue
  • Inner cheeks
  • Roof of the mouth
  • Floor of the mouth

It’s also referred to as mouth cancer or oral cavity cancer.

What are the symptoms of oral cancer?

Signs… This text opens a new tab to the American Cancer Society page on signs… of oral cancer include:

  • Sores in your mouth that don’t heal
  • Pain in your mouth that doesn’t go away
  • Lump or thickening in your cheek
  • White or red patch inside your mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Feeling that something is caught in your throat and doesn’t go away
  • Trouble chewing, swallowing, or moving your jaw or tongue
  • Numbness of your tongue or other areas of your mouth
  • Swelling of your jaw
  • Loose teeth
  • Pain around teeth or jaw
  • Constant bad breath

What causes oral cancer?

Oral cancer is caused when the cells on your lips or inside your mouth mutate their DNA.

The cells continue growing and dividing and often form a tumor.

If left untreated, this cancer may spread inside your mouth, to other areas of your head or neck, or other parts of your body.

Factors that increase your risk for oral cancer include:

  • Tobacco use (the most contributing factor to oral cancer)
  • Frequent or excessive alcohol consumption
  • Unprotected sun exposure
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Weakened immune system

How fast does oral cancer spread?

Oral cancer is generally a slow-growing type of cancer.


The problem is oral cancer often goes undetected by patients because they may not be in pain or recognize the symptoms.

It’s estimated only 29%… This text opens a new tab to the statistic source.. of oral cancers are diagnosed at the early stage, which is when it’s more treatable and has a high survival rate.

What’s the survival rate of oral cancer?

The overall 5-year relative survival rate of oral cancer is 66.2%.

If oral cancer is localized, meaning it’s diagnosed early and hasn’t spread, the 5-year relative survival rate is 85.1%.

If oral cancer is regional, meaning it spreads to surrounding tissues to lymph nodes, that rate decreases to 66.8%.

If oral cancer is distant, meaning it’s metastasized and spread to other parts of the body, that rate drops to 40.1%.

Having oral cancer diagnosed early significantly increases your chance of survival.

What is oral cancer screening?

Oral cancer screening is an examination performed by a dentist or doctor to look for signs of cancerous or precancerous conditions in your mouth.

The goal is to identify the signs early so you receive treatment when there’s a greater chance of survival.

Many healthcare professionals rely on their trained eyes to do an examination.

They’ll check the inside of your mouth, including lips, tongue, cheeks, gums, and roof and floor of your mouth. They may also use their gloved hands to feel tissues inside your mouth or examine your throat and neck for lumps.

Another way is using a rinse that temporarily dyes your mouth to highlight abnormal cells.

At Brookside Dental, we do visual examinations and use the VELscope oral cancer screening device.

This technology helps to detect tissue abnormalities that may not be visible to the naked eye.

How does VELscope work?

VELscope Vx… This text opens a new tab to the official website… is a small, handheld scope that emits a harmless, bright blue light to inspect your mouth and tongue.

The blue light causes healthy soft tissues in your mouth to fluoresce naturally.

But when abnormal tissue is present, it’ll disrupt the healthy tissue illumination and appear darkened.

These abnormal changes are often only visible under the scope and aren’t yet noticeable in natural light.

Our dentists will work with your healthcare provider for a thorough diagnosis and next steps if abnormalities are found.

A VELscope oral cancer screening takes only two minutes on average.

In 2009, the World Health Organization… This text opens a new tab to the article… recognized VELscope Vx as one of only eight commercialized devices that address global health concerns.

Detecting early signs of oral cancer or disease with VELscope may save your life!

How often should you have oral cancer screening?

We recommend having an oral cancer screening twice per year.

Our Bellevue dentists perform a VELscope oral cancer screening as part of your routine dental check-ups and cleanings.

We’re passionate about helping you live a long and healthy life, and this quick screening gives us all peace of mind.

Do all dentists do oral cancer screenings?

Most dentists perform a visual examination of your mouth to look for abnormalities during your regular visits.

However, only a handful use advanced technology to catch signs before they become visible to the naked eye.

If you’re looking for a new dentist, make sure you ask:

  • Do you screen for oral cancer?
  • How do you screen for oral cancer?
  • How often do you check?

If you have a family history of cancer or are at risk based on the list earlier, we recommend seeking a dentist who offers VELscope oral cancer screening for early detection.

Looking for a dentist near Bellevue, WA?

Meet our husband-and-wife dental team, Dr. Corie Vitkovic and Dr. Steven Kitts.

In addition to VELscope oral cancer screening, they also offer family, cosmetic, and comprehensive dentistry.

More importantly:

Our dental team believes dentistry is more than just teeth. It’s about improving your quality of life.

As our patient, we’ll help you achieve a beautiful, healthy smile that benefits your entire well-being.

Request an Appointment

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Our office is located in Bellevue, WA… opens in a new window to Google Maps…, and proudly serves surrounding communities in Seattle, Kirkland, Renton, Woodinville, Issaquah, Redmond, and Sammamish.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2011 and has been completely revamped for comprehensiveness and timeliness.

7 comments on “How Our Dentists Screen for Oral Cancer”
  1. Avatar photo
    Brookside Dental

    Great comment LVDentist. How innovative to work with the local cancer center–keep up the great work.

  2. Avatar photo
    Brookside Dental

    Greater developments are in the future too! Thanks.

  3. Avatar photo
    Brookside Dental


    Thanks for the great comment. We really try to stay on the “cutting edge” of dentistry. We were the first office to use the Dentrix system and the intra-oral camera in our city.

  4. Avatar photo
    Brookside Dental

    Thanks for all the interest and comments from all the dentists offices.

  5. Avatar photo
    Brookside Dental

    Thanks for the compliment Shane.

  6. Avatar photo
    Brookside Dental

    Grand Rapids DDS,

    Thanks for the great comment. You are absolutely correct that early detection will lower not only death rate, but disfigurement. Thanks for the information.

  7. Avatar for Brookside Dental
    Dr N Deepak kumar

    Thankyou for the information and It was very useful for everyone. And Here we also providing the Dental clinic services in Coimbatore for all the treatment and oral health….For more details visit

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