Statistics: Oral cancer screenings occur. But do they happen often enough?

Statistics indicate the dental professionals are conducting oral cancer screenings, but do the screenings occur often enough?

With April set aside as Oral Cancer Awareness month, it seemed like a good time to see how many oral cancer screenings are happening in dental practices each month.

Using data collected by Sikka Software from more than 12,500 dental practices from around the United States, it’s heartening to see that more oral cancer examinations are happening in dental practices each month. However, it’s also a bit head-shaking that the numbers are that low.

In terms of pre-diagnostic oral cancer tests administered by the dental team, here are the numbers per month…

  • 2010 – 6.08
  • 2011 – 7.00
  • 2012 – 7.25
  • 2013 – 7.92
  • 2014 – 7.75
  • 2015 – 9.00
  • 2016 – 9.33

That means that, as recently as five months ago, the average dental practice in the United States was doing just over nine oral cancer screenings per month. The same numbers from Sikka Software tell us that the average dentist saw 20.75 patients per day in 2016. Think about how many patients were going through practices last year that did not receive an oral cancer screening. It’s a scary number.

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Other articles based on Sikka Software statistics

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“If patients are polled as to whether they have had an oral cancer screening, they typically say, ‘no,’” said Linda Miles, one of dentistry’s best known consultants and one of the driving forces behind OralCancerCause.org. “This response is due to the fact that many dentists and hygienists do not explain what they are doing while performing an oral cancer screening.

“The simple statement: ‘I'm doing an oral cancer screening’ is key in not only letting patients know that you are thorough. It also lets them know you are interested in their total health, not just their teeth. This lack of patient education keeps the percentage of those actually doing oral cancer screenings at an all-time low.”

So why aren’t more dental practices performing oral cancer screenings? We often hear about three main roadblocks.

The first is the matter of time. Often dental professionals believe the schedule is too full to perform a comprehensive screening. With everything else that must be done during the patient’s six-month checkup, is there time to incorporate a screening as well? Many practitioners say no.

The second is cost. As this Dental Economics article points out, it’s a tough decision in the practice on whether to charge a patient or not for the screening. Sure, it’s the dental professional’s moral duty to put the health of his or her patient first, but the business of the practice must also be a focus as well. Do you charge for it? Does your patient’s insurance plan cover it? If not, would they be willing to pay for it? Yes, there are a lot of questions here and decisions to be made.

The third factor is fear. Fear of actually finding something and having to tell a patient. Fear of not knowing exactly what to do if something was found inside the patient’s oral cavity. Fear of having to even talk about “the c word” with patients.

Fear is not a good excuse, however. There are plenty of resources out there to help you understand the steps that need to be in place for you and your practice to help a patient through what could be a life-altering discovery.

Are you unsure of what it takes to perform an oral cancer screening in your practice? This article provides a simple and easy-to-read checklist on how you can be doing this in your practice.

Are you unsure of how you put a plan in place for your practice to not only screen for oral cancer but develop the resources and relationships necessary to benefit your patients? Don’t let that stop you from doing everything you can to save a patient’s life. Ask. Learn. Seek the answers. Incorporate screenings into your practice. It could literally be the difference between life and death.

Note: Want to learn more about what Sikka Software can do for your practice? Practice Mobilizer is the free app that lets you send HIPAA compliant video messages, track patient arrival times, provides zip code specific fee data and more. Click here.

An advocate of today’s dental assistant, Kevin Henry speaks to dental audiences across the nation on topics that empower dental assistants, helping them recognize the leadership role they hold in the practice. He is the co-founder of IgniteDA.net, a community designed to enlighten, empower, and educate dental assistants.


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