As Backlogs Grow, Mouth Cancer Puts Lives In Danger

As Backlogs Grow, Mouth Cancer Puts Lives In Danger

As today sees the launch of  Mouth Cancer Action Month, the dangers of missed dental appointments due to the pandemic backlog, has hit the news headlines.

Yesterday, The Express headlined “Three years backlog! - Lives in danger as NHS dentistry faces ’worst crisis ever’”

The newspaper said “People will die due to missed oral cancer diagnoses as NHS dentistry faces its worst crisis ever, dentists and watchdogs warn”

The annual  Mouth Cancer Action Month is supported by the Mouth Cancer Foundation (MCF) and the Oral Health Foundation (OHF).

Since the first dental shutdown in March 2020, dental professionals and representative organisations have warned of the dangers inherent in missed dental examinations and oral health screenings.

Ahead of the Government’s recent Budget and Spending Review, the British Dental Association and Healthwatch England wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, calling on him to “Guarantee the future of NHS dentistry.”

The two organisations used the open letter to highlight the impact on dental care that a decade of cuts and COVID-19 have had on NHS dentistry.

On the day of the Spending Review, The BDA said on the association’s news website, “Reform of the widely discredited model the service operates to was pledged by April 2022. Dentist leaders have expressed disbelief that no commitments have been made to provide the necessary resources to deal with the backlogs and underpin a transition to a new and sustainable model of care.”


So far it’s not clear whether any of the £5.9 billion planned to be given to NHS England to clear the backlog of treatments brought on by COVID will be earmarked for dentistry.

The Express said “Industry bosses say things are so bad they fear a ‘hidden agenda to drive dentistry out of the NHS.”

“Without check-ups, mouth cancers, which kill more people than car accidents, are going undetected until it is too late.”

The Mouth Cancer Foundation says that over 8300 new cases in the UK each year and that one person every three HOURS is lost to mouth cancer.

BDA News said the number of new cases of mouth cancer per annum, is an increase of 58% compared to ten years ago.

“Worldwide, mouth cancer affects 650,000 per year,” says the MCF, and “Cancer is TWICE as common in men than women, though an increasing number of women are being diagnosed with the disease.”

The “5 year SURVIVAL rate has hardly improved in last few decades due to late detection” and “25% of mouth cancer cases have no associated significant risk factors.”

The importance of regular dental examinations was highlighted by the Oral Cancer Foundation, which says on its website “Often oral cancer is only discovered when cancer has metastasized to another location, most likely the lymph nodes of the neck.”

“Prognosis at this stage of discovery is significantly worse than when it is caught in a localized intraoral area. Besides the metastasis, at these later stages, the primary tumour has had time to invade deep into local structures.”

Nicki Rowland wrote on the Oral Health Foundation website “So, why are we seeing an escalating trend in mouth cancer? Well, the problem is that it is not being detected early enough. Early detection is key to saving lives.”

The owner of Practices Made Perfect recommended having a “Management Strategy for Oral Cancer in Your Practice”.

Nicki wrote “The objectives laid out in your strategy should include robust mouth cancer check for every patient, talking to and educating your patients about the disease and training your team to deliver an oral cancer service.”

“The end goal is that every team member is confident in their role within your oral cancer service, that your patients can see that you are safeguarding their oral and systemic health and very importantly that you are meeting your duty of care to do so.”

The BDA said on its website “Dentists and their teams have a vital role to play in ensuring oral cancers are detected early and we campaign to raise awareness and provide essential resources for dental professionals.”

“Early detection is the key to improved survival rates for those contracting oral cancers, and we are concerned that mouth cancer referrals have fallen by 60% since the first UK lockdown in March 2020. This could lead to a potentially devastating rise in mortality.”

Details on the Mouth Cancer Action Month can be found here.

The BDA has developed an oral cancer toolkit for dental professionals, accessible here.

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