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Biopsy / Pathology

My dentist referred me for a biopsy.  What does this mean?

A biopsy is a procedure where a small piece of tissue is removed from your mouth and sent to a pathologist to be looked at under a microscope.  


Why does my dentist want me to have a biopsy?

Your dentist has referred you because he or she has noticed an abnormal area, lump, or bump in your mouth or on your x-ray.  In most instances it is impossible to tell exactly what these areas are only by looking at them or by using x-rays alone.  Usually, a piece of the area itself needs to be looked at under a microscope to identify exactly what it is.

Do all abnormal spots or bumps seen in the mouth or on x-ray need a biopsy?

The majority of abnormal areas in the mouth or seen on x-ray do require biopsy.  There are some limited circumstances where a biopsy may not be recommended and you may be asked to simply return for repeat x-rays or exam after a certain amount of time.  I will discuss this in detail with you during your consultation appointment.

Could the spot/bump in my mouth or on my x-ray be cancer?

The good news is that the vast majority of abnormal areas found in the mouth are not cancerous, but there is usually no way to be sure unless a biopsy is performed.  Even areas that are not cancer can be serious. Benign (non-cancerous) tumors can still grow to be very large and cause destruction to your jaws and surrounding structures; therefore, it’s important to have these entities biopsied as well.

How are biopsies performed?

This depends on where the area is.  If the spot or lump is on the gums, cheeks or tongue, the process is very simple and is able to be performed quickly.  A piece of the area is simply and promptly removed. Stitches may or may not be placed.


If the area in question is only visible on x-ray, this means the abnormality is within your jaw bone.  Usually, the biopsy procedure is still straightforward and involves a small incision in the gums, the creation of a small window into the bone and removal of the suspicious area.  

Will the entire abnormal area be removed during the biopsy?

In some instances, the entire abnormal area will be removed at once. In other situations, it is necessary to confirm exactly what the area is before complete removal.  I will discuss this in detail with you during your consultation visit.

Who looks at the tissue under the microscope?

After the sample tissue is removed (biopsied), it is mailed to an oral and maxillofacial pathology lab (usually LSU in New Orleans) for evaluation.  A specialist doctor in oral and maxillofacial pathology will examine the sample under a microscope and may perform special tests on the tissue to provide a diagnosis.  


When will I follow up after my biopsy and what happens at this appointment?

You will follow up in 1-2 weeks after your biopsy.  I will inform you of your diagnosis at this appointment.  Also, the healing of your biopsy site will be checked. I will have a thorough discussion with you about exactly what your diagnosis is and what it means for you.  We will then discuss treatment options (if needed). In some cases, no more treatment will be required. Some cases will require a second minor in-office procedure. Other patients may require more extensive treatment or a referral to another provider.  


What are my anesthetic options for biopsy?

Please see the anesthesia options section of the website for detailed information regarding IV sedation.

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