The future of the mouth cancer message in dentistry

The future of the mouth cancer message in dentistry

Tripat Mahajan explains how mouth cancer will shape dentistry in the future and what dental professionals can do to protect patients.

Public awareness about the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer remains poor. Patients are being diagnosed in later stages of the disease, resulting in poorer long-term prognosis and quality of life.

Here we will explore how I think we can adapt to continue raising awareness of mouth cancer and therefore try to reduce its devastating effect on our patients.

Tell patients you are doing an oral cancer screen

Almost 88% of adults have now heard of mouth cancer but around 1 in 4 people under age 34 have not. The awareness around signs and symptoms is still poor.

I would encourage all clinicians to promote this conversation with parents whilst carrying out a head and neck examination. Tell patients you are screening for oral cancer, looking for abnormal lesions, ulcers, lumps etc.

This is an opportunity for patients to ask questions and have a further conversation about signs, symptoms and risk factors.

Risk factor control: smoking and alcohol

Tobacco and alcohol use are known to be significant risk factors for oral cancers, but many of us underestimate the influence our words have on patients.

‘Making every consultation count’ is essential for health promotion. Many cases are linked to tobacco and alcohol use so with encouraging changes in lifestyle, and cessation of these habits, there is hope that these risk factors can be addressed.

Risk factor control: talk about HPV

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is known to be a risk factor for cancer of the cervix but is also a rising risk factor in many head and neck cancers, particularly oropharyngeal.

Alarmingly, the State of Mouth Cancer Report showed 89% of the public are not aware of this. We therefore have a role to increase the awareness of HPV, the availability of the HPV vaccine and its risks to oral cancer, especially in school-aged patients.

Use the Mouth Cancer Foundation’s resources

The Mouth Cancer Foundation is a leading UK head and neck cancer charity, set up in 2004, is dedicated to raising awareness of mouth cancer and supporting those affected by it.

There are lots of information leaflets/posters you can order freely. These can be displayed in your practice or shared with your patients to help with these discussions.

There are also a host of resources available on the website ( for helping clinicians, including a guide on how to perform a mouth cancer screen, and an easy guide for patients on how to carry out a self-check examination.

Encourage self-checking

There is a lack of access to NHS dentists and a threat to the future of NHS dentistry itself. In addition, the Oral Health Foundation has found 23% of UK adults have avoided making an appointment with their dentist as a result of the cost of living crisis.

Other patients report not having the time to visit the dentist as they are working more hours to cope.

Early detection improves prognosis and chances of survival from 50% to 90%. If patients are checking their own mouths regularly enough, they could potentially spot their abnormal from normal a lot quicker.

If patients are not attending their dentists as regularly, this may just save their life. You can signpost patients to the self-check examination video guide on the Mouth Cancer Foundation website

Social media

With such difficult access to dentists, having an information resource outside the practice can be helpful. With social media forming a powerful tool for many dentists, posts raising awareness about mouth cancer and encouraging self-checking can urge people to find out more about the disease.

I would encourage all dentists to get involved in Mouth Cancer Awareness Month every November. But also hope you can all keep the message going year-round!

We are looking for contributors for our Future of Dentistry campaign! Email [email protected] to get involved.

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