Dental surgeries fail to spot symptoms of mouth cancer

A new survey reveals that dental surgeries are failing to pick up on symptoms of mouth cancer.

The facial surgery charity, Saving Faces, has discovered that dental practices are still not adequately informed of the signs of mouth cancer – and this is delaying patient treatment and resulting in invasive and disfiguring surgery for thousands.

The telephone survey was of 444 London practices and was conducted by The Facial Surgery Research Foundation – Saving Faces.

It showed that even if a patient called with clear symptoms of mouth cancer, in 43% of cases they did not receive an appointment within one week. 

In 8% of cases, patients were told that they would have to wait between three weeks and four months and a further 7% of dental practices said they could not see the patient at all as they had already met their NHS quota.

The survey revealed that more than 25% of dental practices did not offer appointments on the NHS.
The charity found that the majority of calls were taken by receptionists who did not recognise the symptoms of mouth cancer when the patient informed them that he had suffered from a tongue ulcer for more than four weeks and that it had failed to heal.

This was despite self-medication with over-the-counter remedies.
Chief Executive of Saving Faces, Oral and Maxillofacial surgeon, Professor Iain Hutchison commented: ‘Increased focus on the symptoms of mouth cancer has improved awareness amongst dentists but the first person a patient speaks to is often not a dentist and the study revealed that these people do not recognise even obviously risky cases.

‘We see thousands of patients who are only referred to us when the mouth cancer is at an advanced stage. The treatment for such patients involves very invasive and often disfiguring surgery with long recovery periods.’
The Facial Surgery Research Foundation – Saving Faces has been leading a campaign to increase the awareness of mouth cancer and the risk factors such as smoking.

Professor Hutchison adds: ‘More needs to be done to train receptionists who are part of the treatment team. The longer a patient waits for an appointment, the more difficult it is to treat.’

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