What you can expect

During an oral cancer screening exam, your dentist looks over the inside of your mouth to check for red or white patches or mouth sores. Using gloved hands, your dentist also feels the tissues in your mouth to check for lumps or other abnormalities. The dentist may also examine your throat and neck for lumps.

Additional tests

Some dentists use special tests in addition to the oral exam to screen for oral cancer. It's not clear if these tests offer any additional benefit over the oral exam. Special tests may involve:

  • Oral cancer screening dye. Rinsing your mouth with a special blue dye before an exam. Abnormal cells in your mouth may take up the dye and appear blue.
  • Oral cancer screening light. Shining a light in your mouth during an exam. The light makes healthy tissue appear dark and makes abnormal tissue appear white.
Nov. 15, 2023
  1. Lingen MW, et al. Evidence-based clinical practice guideline for the evaluation of potentially malignant disorders in the oral cavity. Journal of the American Dental Association. 2018; doi:10.1016/j.adaj.2017.07.032.
  2. Stefanac SJ, et al., eds. Patient evaluation and assessment. In: Diagnosis and Treatment Planning in Dentistry. 3rd ed. Elsevier; 2017. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Aug. 14, 2019.
  3. Moyer VA. Screening for oral cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014; doi:10.7326/M13-2568.
  4. Oral cavity, pharyngeal and laryngeal cancer screening (PDQ) – Health professional version. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/hp/oral-screening-pdq. Accessed Aug. 14, 2019.
  5. Cancer Facts & Figures 2019. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/research/cancer-facts-statistics/all-cancer-facts-figures/cancer-facts-figures-2019.html. Accessed Oct. 14, 2019.
  6. Salinas TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Oct. 13, 2019.

Oral cancer screening