Oral pathology is the diagnosis and study of the causes and effects of diseases affecting the mouth, jaw and face. Many patients visit an oral and maxillofacial surgeon for evaluation and treatment of oral pathology. Generally, these patients are first evaluated by their dental provider who refers them to an oral surgeon for further evaluation and treatment. The scope of oral pathology is extremely vast and oral pathologists, in addition to the dental provider and the oral surgeon, are needed for complete diagnosis, management, and treatment of lesions.

If a patient discovers a lesion such as an ulcer or a bump in the oral cavity, then addressing this lesion is a must.

When a patient presents to the oral surgeon, a thorough review of the patient’s history of the lesion, medical history, medications and supplements, social history, and allergies are reviewed very carefully. After that, the patient is evaluated clinically. The evaluation includes a complete head and neck examination with an oral examination and, in many cases, the use of photography to keep accurate records of the lesion.

Based on the assessment of the patient, the oral surgeon will decide if the lesion requires monitoring, medical management, or performing a biopsy for histopathological evaluation. The specimen obtained in a biopsy is sent to a laboratory where a pathologist will perform a microscopic evaluation and provide a written report that includes the diagnosis. Based on the diagnosis, the oral surgeon will devise a specific treatment for the patient.

A vast majority of oral pathologies are benign and may require simple intervention, medical management and continued monitoring by the dental provider.

One of the most common questions an oral surgeon is asked when evaluating a patient is regarding potential malignancies. Oral cancer, which is the most serious diagnosis in the oral cavity and the most concerning diagnosis for patients, is luckily very rare. Some of the risk factors for oral cancer are smoking, chewing tobacco, excessive alcohol consumption, and certain viral infections.

Although oral cancer is a serious diagnosis, it can be managed with a variety of surgical and non-surgical modalities. Early diagnosis and treatment will significantly improve the prognosis.