Does a Dental Biopsy In My Mouth Mean I Have Oral Cancer?

The short answer is no.

A dental biopsy is a technique of removing some tissue in order to examine it under a microscope. Most biopsies are done by administering some local anesthetic and then removing a segment of tissue with a scalpel. The indication for a biopsy is for any lesion or entity that is not normal.

Many conditions that affect the skin, for example, psoriasis, can also affect the mouth. Without a biopsy, one cannot be certain of the diagnosis. Sometimes there are patches on the tongue or lip that become rather thick and white, or parts of the skin of the mouth (mucous membrane) can break away, leaving raw and painful areas.

In order to determine the exact nature of the condition, a biopsy is necessary. Once the diagnosis is made, the appropriate therapy is administered.

Sometimes a biopsy is required because a small lump appears on the lips, cheeks, or tongue. It can be a nuisance in that it may cause concern or it may be traumatized by inadvertently being chewed on.

Some children (and adults) have a habit of chewing their lips and this can traumatize the small salivary glands in those areas. The glands can swell and form mucoceles. Mucoceles are areas of saliva ballooning up in the tissues after the duct has been partially obstructed. They usually are a painless, blue-domed, raised structure that almost always appears in the lower lip. Often, the only way to eliminate them is to excise them by performing a biopsy.

A recent development is the OralScan CD, in which a pipe-stem-like brush is swept across abnormal tissue (without use of a local anesthetic) and then the brush is drawn over a glass slide and a fixative solution is added. The slide is then examined by an advanced computer system for the presence of abnormal cells. This later technique is not similar to a Pap smear because it does not examine superficial cells, but instead examines the deeper or basal cells in the lesion.

Just as in the rest of the body, any lump, ulcer, sore or odd-appearing tissue should have a biopsy done on it if is still present two weeks after whatever is thought to have caused it is removed. Again, a dental biopsy does not mean you have oral cancer.

by Myer Leonard, DDS, MD

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Admiralty Dental Center
600 Cliff Street
Port Townsend, WA 98368
General Info: (360) 385-7003