Patients want mouth cancer checks

Nov. 30, 2011
The majority of patients visiting their dentist would like to be checked for mouth cancer, the results of a new survey have revealed.

The majority of patients visiting their dentist would like to be checked for mouth cancer, the results of a new survey have revealed.

The findings showed that nine in 10 patients (88%) would like to be checked for the disease. Despite the public’s desire to be checked for cancer, only one in seven people (14%) indicated their dentist had explained the risks and symptoms of mouth cancer to them.

The Foundation estimates that around 90% of dentists regularly check for mouth cancer, but only a small percentage discusses the issue directly with their patients.

The results highlight a gap in communication between dentist and the public, who are left lacking the knowledge and awareness of a disease which has risen by 40% in the last decade and is now responsible for an estimated 6,000 deaths a year in the UK.

The survey was conducted throughout Mouth Cancer Action Month with callers contacting the Foundation’s National Dental Helpline. More than 250 members of the public agreed to participate in the survey, which was undertaken by the Foundation’s team of qualified dental professionals.

Chief Executive of the Foundation Dr. Nigel Carter said only by bridging the gap between dentist and patient can the public become more engaged with the threat of Britain’s fastest growing cancer.

Dr. Carter said: “Good communication in health care is vital for both the professional and the patient. In dentistry it allows the dentist to explain certain procedures, which can often be very technically minded. The patient can then come back with any further questions they may have about the treatment, what is involved, and what may happen afterwards. If either of these roles is ineffective then it can lead to a failure of communication.”

“Mouth cancer cases are increasing at a phenomenal rate due to choices in lifestyle such as smoking and alcohol. The disease, its symptoms, and risk factors need to be discussed honestly and openly more often, and there’s no better place to start than at a dental checkup.

“Knowing the risks and learning how to self-examine are key when it comes to the early detection of mouth cancer, where it can dramatically improve survival rates to 90%. Without early detection, half will die — it really is a silent killer.”

A second survey with dental professionals has found that one quarter (25%) of dentists said they get regular enquiries about mouth cancer from patients. It also revealed that one in seven (15%) dentists claim to have identified more than one mouth cancer case in the last year while another fifth (18%) professed to have spotted a single case.

Dr. Carter added: “This news is particularly troubling and confirms the alarming rate at which mouth cancer cases in the UK seem to be growing. Many years ago an average dentist would see one case every decade or so, but we are now seeing people referred and diagnosed much more frequently.

“The fact that so many more cases than before are being seen and referred is a credit to the dentist and knowing that everyone we spoke to considered it their role to assist with the awareness of mouth cancer will hopefully mean many more early diagnoses, which will save thousands of lives.”

The National Dental Helpline, staffed by fully trained oral health experts and dental nurses, has taken nearly 300,000 calls since its formation a little over a decade ago. They can provide free and impartial advice to the public on such subjects as dental terms and treatment procedures, oral hygiene, current UK legislation and regulations, NHS and private dental charges, complaints procedures, and referrals to other organisations.

The public can contact the Helpline Monday to Friday, 09:00-17:00 on 0845 063 1188.

Editor’s notes

1. The British Dental Health Foundation is the UK’s leading oral health charity, with a 40-year track record of providing public information and influencing government policy. It maintains a free consumer advice service, an impartial and objective product accreditation scheme, publishes and distributes a wide range of literature for the profession and consumers, and runs National Smile Month each May, to promote greater awareness of the benefits of better oral health. For more information visit

Please visit the Foundation’s Twitter accounts: dentalhealthorg and mouthcancerorg and add our Facebook fan-page: ‘British Dental Health Foundation’. You can find more information on mouth cancer at the website

2. Mouth Cancer Action Month is the only UK mouth cancer campaign which is conducted with advice from and supported by the Department of Health and the British Dental Association. The campaign is supported by Denplan and a number of other professional and commercial partners including Smile-on Limited, Smile, The Probe, and Dental Update publications.

To make a donation Just text giving to MCAM11 £2, £5, £10, or any amount you want, to 70070.

For further information and FREE Blue Ribbon Badge Appeal kits please contact the Foundation’s Press Office on 01788 539792 or email [email protected]. For free posters please also contact the Foundation.

3. About Mouth Cancer

  • Around 60,000 people in the UK will be diagnosed with mouth cancer over the next decade.
  • Sufferers of the condition include American actor Michael Douglas, BBC Broadcaster Danny Baker, and ex England and Manchester United Football Captain Bryan Robson.
  • Tobacco use is still considered the main cause of mouth cancer. According to the World Health Organisation, up to half of current smokers will die of a tobacco-related illness — including mouth cancer.
  • Drinking to excess can increase the risk of mouth cancer by four times. Those who smoke and drink are up to 30 times more likely to develop mouth cancer.
  • Mouth cancer is twice more common in men than in women, though an increasing number of women are being diagnosed with the disease.

4. Key findings from the survey

  • 84% of dentists do not explain the risks and symptoms of mouth cancer to their patients.
  • 88% of the public would like to be checked for mouth cancer at their appointment.
  • 11% of dentists do not check for signs of mouth cancer in an appointment.
  • 8% of dentists are not comfortable talking about mouth cancer to those who might be at risk.
  • 1 in 4 dentists get regular patient enquiries about mouth cancer.
  • Almost half (43%) do not provide mouth cancer educational material for patients.
  • One in seven (15%) dentists claims to have identified more than one mouth cancer case in the last year. Almost a fifth of other dentists (18%) have claimed to spot one case of mouth cancer in the last year.
  • 100% of dentists consider it their role to promote mouth cancer awareness.
  • Almost half (46%) of dentists believe smoking will continue to be the leading risk factor for mouth cancer in the future. One in eight (13%) said alcohol. One in four (25%) said HPV.
  • Less than a third (32%) do not use adjunctive techniques to test for mouth cancer, with price and cost effectiveness being the main deterrent.