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News / June 18, 2008

Belfast patients left in the dark about mouth cancer

by Guy Hiscott

The British Dental Health Foundation has revealed that Belfast dental patients fear they are being put at risk of mouth cancer – as 76% say their dentist has never checked them for the condition and 90% say their dentist has never even spoken to them about it.

According to the independent public advice charity, mouth cancer is the most deadly oral condition, killing one person every five hours in the UK. The number of new cases is also increasing every year.

Dentists are expected to check for mouth cancer during routine appointments but the National Mouth Cancer Survey, conducted jointly by the Foundation and Medicash for National Smile Month, reveals that patients believe firmly that this is not the case.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Foundation, commented: ‘This is a big surprise and will be a major concern for both the public and the profession.

‘Mouth cancer is a very serious condition. It kills more than cervical cancer and testicular cancer combined and yet a staggering one in five people in Belfast have never even heard of it.

‘The problem here appears to be twofold. Firstly not enough dentists are carrying out the checks and secondly those that do carry them out are failing to communicate this with their patients – missing a perfect opportunity to educate them on the dangers of mouth cancer.

‘NHS dentists are expected to carry out dental check-ups in a very short space of time and it appears that many do not feel they have the time to carry out this important activity.’

Mouth cancer kills one in two people that develop the condition but with early detection survival chances increase to nine out of 10.

Dentists are trained to spot the early signs of mouth cancer, which can include ulcers that don’t heal, lumps and red or white patches in the mouth while self-examination can also be beneficial.

Peter Lauris, sales and marketing director for health insurer Medicash, commented: ‘As 66% of people said that the thought of developing mouth cancer is even more frightening than other cancers, for peace of mind they need to attend the dentist regularly and ask to be checked for mouth cancer.

‘There are other measures people can take to ensure their risk of developing mouth cancer is reduced such as not smoking, drinking less alcohol and eating a healthy balanced diet.

‘However, of those who drink only moderately and do not smoke, up to one in four younger people are still developing mouth cancer. The message is clear commitment to maintaining regular dental visits is crucial and can prove lifesaving.

‘People are sometimes put off because they think dental care is expensive but the reality is there are plenty of ways to make it affordable, such as health cash plans, and it could be best the investment they’ll ever make.’