A recent survey highlighted by the British Dental Health Foundation (www.dentalhealth.org) found that 9 out of 10 dental patients want to be screened for oral cancer but only 14% of those surveyed were aware that they had been whilst visiting the dentist. An estimated 90% of dentists are screening for oral cancer during a dental examination but do not talk to the patient about what they are doing!
Why is the dental profession so reluctant to talk about the ‘C’ word when patients want to hear it? Is this due to our fear of litigious activity if patients know too much or is it because dentists lack knowledge, confidence and experience in dealing with oral cancer management? It seems irrational when we hear about skin, cervical, breast and testicular cancer all the time. The public is exposed to messages about these types of cancer on the television, through other media and even in GP’s waiting rooms. At certain ages we are invited to be screened for a variety of cancers and given advice about screening ourselves regularly too. People are generally well informed about prevalent cancers and aware of Government initiatives to tackle the problems.
Why is oral cancer any different? Why is our profession so fearful of talking to our public about this developing epidemic? Why is there no Government initiative to combat this hidden killer? Why are girls not informed that the HPV vaccine will safeguard them against oral cancer as well as cervical cancer? Oral cancer is not just a hidden killer but also a silent one as nobody seems to be talking about it!
So, this Mouth Cancer Action Month (https://www.dentalhealth.org/our-work/mouth-cancer-action-month) give your patients what they want! Train your team to talk to patients in a confident, knowledgeable and appropriate way particularly during screening. Teach patients to self-screen on a monthly basis and arm them with the information that they need to look out for the early signs of the disease. Self-screening is particularly important as NHS recall intervals continue to be unreasonably stretched. The way I see it, if patients are given joint responsibility to screen themselves for oral cancer, this may help to counteract the barrage of litigation we are experiencing. As a profession, if we screen for, talk to and educate our patients about oral cancer, we will be meeting our professional obligation to do so as well as keeping the CQC happy when they come knocking at our door.
Talking to patients about oral cancer not only raises their awareness but it also helps to spread the word about the disease. Give people what they want and they will also tell their friends and family about the fantastic job that you are doing. ‘Word of mouth’ is the most effective marketing tool at your fingertips, so go ahead and use it!