The Oral Health Foundation is campaigning for patients to ‘speak out about mouth cancer’ following a study which show almost nine in ten (87%) British adults have never talked about the disease with a dentist.
Further findings reveal more than seven in ten (71%) do not know that a dentist visually examines them for mouth cancer as part of a routine dental check-up.
The charity, which launched the survey to coincide with November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month, thinks mouth cancer is often overlooked, and that people don’t often speak to dentists and health professionals about the condition to a lack of knowledge about the disease.
Dr Nigel Carter OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, believes a dental check-up is the perfect opportunity to become Mouthaware and learn more about mouth cancer.
Dr Carter said: “There’s a perception that a visit to the dentist is simply about looking after our teeth and gums, but there’s actually far more going on. During every check-up, a dentist will visually examine us for the early warning signs of mouth cancer.
“It’s clear that the patient-dentist relationship can be improved, and this can happen quickly and easily through more communication. Do not be afraid to ask the dentist what they are doing, what they are looking for and where they are examining.
“The dental chair is not only an area where treatment occurs, but it is increasingly becoming a place of education where we can learn more about our oral health. By asking a few relatively quick and simple questions, we can put ourselves in a position to catch mouth cancer early, which could save our life.”
According to the latest statistics, there are more than 7,500 new cases of mouth cancer every year in the United Kingdom, a growth of more than two-thirds (68%) in the last 20 years.
Mouth cancer is more common in men over the age of 40, but it is now being diagnosed in far more women and younger people.
Catherine Rutland, Head of Professional Support Services at SimplyHealth Professionals, outlined what symptoms patients should be looking for: “Mouth cancer can appear as a non-healing mouth ulcer, red or white patches and unusual lumps and swellings. The dentist will visually examine for these symptoms in the floor and roof of our mouth, tongue, cheeks, lips, head and neck but this is also something we should be doing at home regularly too.
“It is important that we can recognise any unusual changes in our mouth and act on them quickly by seeking help from a dentist.”
Mouth Cancer Action Month runs throughout November and aims to improve education about the disease so that more mouth cancers are caught early and encourage regular visits to the dentist.
Other findings from the survey looking into our knowledge about mouth cancer, shows we are far more likely (22%) to seek health advice from the internet than from dentists or doctors.
Dr Ben Atkins, a dentist based in Manchester and Trustee of the Oral Health Foundation, says the Internet has become an increasingly common place to access health information but warns against using online tools for self-diagnosis.
Dr Atkins says: “As long as it is from a trusted and independent source, the Internet is generally a really positive environment for us to access all sorts of information about our health. This can often influence us into making decisions about our lifestyle and daily routines which benefit our health and wellbeing.
“It is important to remember that some sites have conflicting messages, which is usually as a result of unqualified opinions, myths or commercial agendas, so it is a sensible idea to stick with advice from sources you can trust.
“Be careful not to use online tools or apps for self-diagnosis, which can be extremely dangerous. If you recognise any usual changes in your mouth, please visit a dentist or doctor immediately. We are in the best possible position to take a look at it for you and put your mind at ease.”
For more information about mouth cancer, visit www.mouthcancer.org.