Bridge the ‘oral cancer’ gap, dentists told

The majority of patients visiting dental practices would like to be checked for mouth cancer, the results of a new survey have revealed.

The findings showed that nine in ten patients (88%) would like to be checked for the disease.

Despite the public’s desire to be checked for cancer, only one in seven people (14%) indicated their dentist had explained the risks and symptoms of mouth cancer to them.

The British Dental Health Foundation estimates that around 90% of dentists regularly check for mouth cancer, but only a small percentage discusses the issue directly with their patients.

The results highlight a gap in communication between dentist and the public, who are left lacking the knowledge and awareness of a disease which has risen by 40% in the last decade and is now responsible for an estimated 6,000 cases a year in the UK.

The survey was conducted throughout Mouth Cancer Action Month with callers contacting the Foundation’s National Dental Helpline.

More than 250 members of the public agreed to participate in the survey, which was undertaken by the Foundation’s team of qualified dental professionals.

Chief executive of the Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter said only by bridging the gap between dentist and patient can the public become more engaged with the threat of Britain’s fastest growing cancer.

Dr Carter said: ‘Good communication in healthcare is vital for both the professional and the patient. In dentistry, it allows the dentist to explain certain procedures, which can often be very technically minded. The patient can then come back with any further questions they may have about the treatment, what is involved and what may happen afterwards. If either of these roles is ineffective then it can lead to a failure of communication.’

‘Mouth cancer cases are increasing at a phenomenal rate due to choices in lifestyle such as smoking and alcohol. The disease, its symptoms and risk factors need to be discussed honestly and openly more often and there’s no better place to start than at a dental check-up.

‘Knowing the risks and learning how to self-examine are key when it comes to the early detection of mouth cancer, where it can dramatically improve survival rates to 90 per cent. Without early detection, half will die – it really is a silent killer.’

A second survey with dental professionals has found that one quarter (25%) of dentists said they get regular enquiries about mouth cancer from patients. It also revealed that one in seven (15%) dentists claim to have identified more than one mouth cancer case in the last year while another fifth (18%) professed to have spotted a single case.

Dr Carter added: ‘This news is particularly troubling and confirms the alarming rate at which mouth cancer cases in the UK seem to be growing. Many years ago an average dentist would see one case every decade or so, but we are now seeing people referred and diagnosed much more frequently.

‘The fact that so more cases than before are being seen and referred is a credit to the dentist and knowing that everyone we spoke to considered it their role to assist with the awareness of mouth cancer will hopefully mean many more early diagnoses which will save thousands of lives.’

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