The Dentist Magazine.

Dentists team up with health professionals to raise awareness of mouth cancer

Published: 29/11/2017

BDA Northern Ireland yesterday teamed up with leading cancer charity Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, the Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency, to help raise public awareness of oral cancer, and the vital role dentists play in oral cancer detection.

Two of BDA Northern Ireland's Dental Practice Committee members, Eamonn Toner and Derek Manson, volunteered their time to carry out mouth checks on shoppers at the Park Centre, West Belfast, as part of our #mouthcheckni initiative. West Belfast is the most deprived constituency in Northern Ireland, where the average number of cases per year of lip oral cavity and pharynx cancers are higher than the average for Northern Ireland.

Around 200 people in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year, often at a late stage, with about a third of those diagnosed dying from the disease. Shockingly, the incidence of oral cancers looks set to double by 2035.

Peter Crooks, chair of the BDA Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee says that in relation to oral cancer, visiting your dentist regularly could quite simply be lifesaving, “Dentists can play an important role in detecting unusual changes in the mouth, lips, head and neck. Through our oral health check initiative, a partnership between Cancer Focus NI, BDA and the Health and Social Care Board, we hope to educate the public on the risk factors, and signs and symptoms of oral cancer, and ultimately achieve better health outcomes.”

Colette Rogers, strategic lead for tobacco control at the Public Health Agency (PHA) says symptoms can manifest in several ways, “It’s important that people know what to look out for and take time to check for changes in the mouth. This habit of carrying out a ‘mouth check’, similar to the ‘breast check’ advised for women, could save lives.

“In addition to early detection it is of paramount importance to know what you can do to reduce your risk of developing mouth cancer. We know that tobacco use is the biggest risk factor for developing mouth cancer and while it may be difficult to quit there is help available. In Northern Ireland there are over 650 free PHA-funded stop smoking specialist services available in a variety of settings. For more information and useful tips to stop smoking visit the PHA’s ‘Want 2 Stop’ website at www.want2stop.info .”

Gerry McElwee from Cancer Focus Northern Ireland says the message is clear, “Stop smoking, reduce your intake of alcohol, eat a healthy diet with at least 5 daily servings of fruit and vegetables and remember that early diagnosis can really make the difference. So make sure you visit a dentist and check your mouth regularly – it might just save your life.”

Mouth cancer can appear in different forms, most often as a painless ulcer that doesn’t heal. Michael Donaldson, Head of Dental Services at the Health and Social Care Board, says early intervention is key, “Dentists are trained to diagnose all diseases of the mouth including oral cancer. We would encourage patients to consult their dentists about any oral condition that does not resolve within three weeks.”