Dental hygienist moves mountains for mouth cancer awareness

BenDental hygienist Gillian Fenwick has climbed Ben Nevis in a bid to raise awareness and valuable donations for mouth cancer.

On 29 May, Gill from Thornton, Middlesbrough, took part in the oral health initiative Moveit4smiles, a project that aims to tackle mouth cancer while campaigning for boys to receive the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination.

Gill, who was crowned ‘Dental Hygienist of the Year’ at this year’s National Dental Awards, was joined by her two sons, Bailey (16) and Harvey (12). The trio tackled Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the United Kingdom, standing at 1,346ft above sea level, head-on.

Gill believes strongly in raising awareness of mouth cancer and campaigning towards the NHS provision of a HPV vaccination for all boys, which is currently only available for girls.

Gill said: ‘HPV is responsible of numerous diseases and has been estimated to be the cause of 5% of all cancer cases. There is a vaccination available, but presently it is only given to girls because of its link with cervical cancer.

‘Indications are that the vaccination will be available to be prescribed to boys in 2020. Until then, a generation of our sons, brothers, grandsons and nephews will pass through to adulthood unprotected.’

HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted disease, which almost every sexually-active person will get at some time in their lives. Fortunately, most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems.

The HPV is expected to overtake smoking as the leading cause of mouth cancer, a disease that itself has seen cases increase by more than a third in the last decade alone.

A HPV vaccine not only helps protect against mouth cancer but also penile, anal cancer and genital warts.

The cost to the NHS of treating genital warts alone over the next five years is predicted to be £280 million (£56 million per year), let alone the cost of treating HPV-associated cancers.

‘By taking on Ben Nevis for Moveit4smiles I hope to have spread awareness about the importance and urgency of a HPV vaccine for boys,’ Gill added.

Gill, Bailey and Harvey took on the Ben Nevis Mountain Track, which is a distance of around 16km. The ascent took the trio about eight hours.

Gill was supported by her colleagues at Identity Dental Care in Billingham, who are also taking part in the Moveit4smiles Pedometer Challenge, which sees them walking steps for mouth cancer over four weeks.

The Pedometer Challenge encourages dental practices and professionals to campaign with their families, friends, colleagues and patients to get fit, have fun, improve their health and help raise awareness and money for mouth cancer.

The activity can be completed in any four-week period from the start of National Smile Month (16 May) to the end of Mouth Cancer Action Month (30 November). Health insurance company, Reward Health, has donated a series of Fitbits as prizes for those individuals and teams who can clock up the most steps.

Learn more about the Pedometer Challenge on the Moveit4smiles website.

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