This headline from American website Dentistry IQ jumped out at us as at the Mouth Cancer Foundation we’re always campaigning for both professionals and individuals to check for mouth cancer.    We were intrigued to see what it said and wondered if it is really possible ‘most hygienists never do’ checks and why things are different in the US.

Read the whole article here to see what appears to be happening across the pond in America.  https://www.dentistryiq.com/dental-hygiene/clinical-hygiene/article/14073034/who-has-time-to-look-for-oral-cancer-the-basics-of-a-screening-most-hygienists-never-do

Our Clinical Ambassador and dental lecturer, Philip Lewis, then gives us his thoughts and tells us what is typically happening in the UK.  

“Every time clinicians are asked if they carry out exams the answer is almost always ‘yes’. As stated in the article, if their patients are asked if they’ve received an exam only about 25% answer ‘yes’. The truth is probably somewhere in between; although some clinicians are probably not carrying out exams dental professionals often don’t tell their patients what they’re doing or why. Probably a lot of early detection exams are completed without the patient being aware of it. This is remiss of course because we should be giving info on mouth cancer to patients as well as carrying out the exam.

In the UK early detection exams are included in the NHS examination fee (now expressed as units of dental activity) so should be part of every general exam. Private practitioners should also include it in the general exam fee payable by patients. The GDC and CQC make this very clear.

In my lectures I address some of the points raised by the article:

  • Involve and train every member of the team. Clinical team members can examine. Non-clinical team members should be trained to observe the patient and report anything unusual (changes in voice, swellings in the face and neck etc.) to the clinical team, give advice and information, explain the examination and confidently answer questions from patients about mouth cancer.
  • Tell the patient what we’re doing and why
  • Tell the patient what the early detection exam involves, with special reference to palpation which many patients find odd in a dental setting. It’s necessary to do this in order to gain informed consent
  • Give out information about mouth cancer
  • Have a nominated person to carry out the exam so we don’t have the risk of the dentist thinking the hygienist is doing it, the hygienist thinking the therapist’s doing it etc. with the result that nobody does it!

I lecture all over the UK and feel nearly all dental practices here are eager to learn about mouth cancer. In my experience UK hygienists are very involved in this and enthusiastic about spending the couple of minutes it takes to carry out an early detection exam which could potentially save a life”.

So, there are some differences between the UK and the US.  At the Mouth Cancer Foundation, we feel the author is doing well pointing out the failings in some practices and raising awareness of mouth cancer to professionals and patients in the US but thankfully believe things are a little better over here.