Oral Pathology

What is Oral Pathology?

Pathology can be defined as the scientific study of the nature of disease and its causes, processes, development, and consequences. More simply put, however, it is the branch of health care that is concerned with diseases and abnion (history and physical examination), it will often enable the surgeon to narrow the diagnosis to two or three of the most likely possibilities. However, it is possible that your surgeon will ask you to undergo a biopsy to obtain a more definitive diagnosis. Biopsy (the removal of a small tissue specimen for microscopic examination) is the only way to be absolutely certain of a final diagnosis.

What Is A Biopsy?

A biopsy is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of a piece of the suspicious tissue; usually part of the lining tissue (mucosa) of the mouth or the underlying bone that has demonstrated possible involvement through the examination process. Fortunately, most biopsies can be carried out in the office setting with Novocain or Lidocaine (local anesthesia). Upon completion of the biopsy, the harvested piece of tissue, or specimen, is sent to a pathology laboratory for examination where the tissue is handled by a qualified specialist in oral pathology.

The pathologist will need to process the tissue and then examine the specimen under a microscope. In the majority of cases this tissue processing and examination by the pathologist will require approximately ten days. Great care is taken to insure and provide an accurate diagnosis. Upon completing the tissue examination, the pathologist will send, fax or telephone a report to your surgeon for review. Any questions that the surgeon may have about the report is then discussed with the pathologist prior to the patient returning to the office.

The report provided to the surgeon by the pathologist not only helps in establishing a diagnosis, but enables him to develop a treatment plan that specifically addresses the type of lesion identified in the diagnosis. Small lesions may have been removed in their entirety during the biopsy while larger lesions may have had only a small portion removed, thereby, necessitating additional surgery. In addition, it may have been necessary to place sutures (stitches) at the biopsy site which will need to be removed at a future appointment. In any case, the patient is required to return to the office to review the results of the biopsy procedure and discuss the need for future treatment if that is deemed necessary.

Is There Anything I Can Do?

The simple answer is yes! Because the mouth is readily accessible, changes indicative of oral cancer or a pathological process can easily be detected in their early stages. But remember, we only find something if we are looking for it.

Performing a self examination regularly will help in the early recognition of disease. To complete a self examination of the mouth use a bright light and mirror (in front of the bathroom mirror is a good place) and perform the following:

  • Remove any dentures (if you have them).
  • Look at and feel the inside of the lips and the front of the gums around the teeth.
  • Tilt your head back to look at and feel the roof of your mouth.
  • Pull out the cheeks to see the insides and also see the back gums.
  • Stick your tongue out and look at all of its surfaces.
  • Feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) on both sides of the neck and under the lower jaw.

When performing a self-examination, look for the following:

  • White patches of the oral tissues — leukoplakia
  • Red patches — erythroplakia
  • Red and white patches — erythroleukoplakia
  • A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
  • An abnormal lump or thickening of the tissues of the mouth
  • Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
  • Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
  • A mass or lump in the neck

Your mouth is one of your body's most important early warning systems. Don't ignore any suspicious lumps or sores. Should you discover something, make an appointment for a prompt examination. Early treatment may well be the key to complete recovery.

Information courtesy of AAOMS