Mouth Cancer – Detection and Raising Awareness

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Ten steps dental practices can take to reduce the risk of mouth cancer

It is essential that we raise awareness of mouth cancer to help save lives

What is the problem?

There has been a 97% increase in oral (mouth) cancer across the UK in the past 20 years. The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in more people developing the condition but going undiagnosed. It is essential that we raise awareness of mouth cancer to prevent this silent killer from claiming more lives.

What can be done?

Early detection of mouth cancer is essential. This requires better patient and public awareness of the symptoms and risks of mouth cancer so that they present early at dental practices.

Here are 10 steps that can be taken by dental practitioners to raise mouth cancer awareness and promote early detection.

1. Management strategy for oral health – including mouth cancer checks for every patient, increased patient education and team training to deliver oral cancer services

2. Clarify roles and responsibilities – every member of the dental team has a role to play. Decide what role each person will play and ensure that that task is completed.

3. Train staff to talk about oral cancer – ensure all staff know how to sensitively ask patients about mouth cancer and how to support them if they receive a diagnosis.

4. Triage all patients – all patients should be triaged for oral cancer when booking an appointment to avoid litigation and save lives.

5. Check thoroughly – make sure that patients are given a full 50:50 intra:extra mouth cancer check, which typically takes about 2 minutes.

6. Educate patients about oral cancer – all patients need to know about mouth cancer, and they should be advised to check for signs and symptoms on a monthly basis. Leaflets and posters could be put up in dental practices.

7. Offer free mouth cancer screening – free oral cancer checks are quick to conduct and give something back to the community. When delivered well, the checks could result in new patients joining the practice.

8. Promote oral cancer events – tell the media when offering free oral cancer checks. Local media are usually happy to support dental practices and it can be a great way to raise awareness of the risks of the silent killer.

9. Develop a clear referral pathway – good communication between healthcare professionals is important in preventing the delay in diagnosis and intervention of mouth cancer.

10. Use a systemic approach – keep track of how activities are helping the community and develop a screening sheet to ensure that nothing is missed during 50:50 intra:extra oral examinations.

Key message

Inspectors are now collecting evidence that dental professionals are working towards safeguarding patients against oral cancer. Therefore, not only does an oral cancer management system help to protect patients’ oral and systemic health but it can also help dental practices to meet professional obligations. The time is now to raise awareness of mouth cancer to help save lives.