Local Dentistry Centres on Mouth Cancer 8,337 people were diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2018. Not only do these numbers continue to skyrocket, but they claim more lives than cervical cancer and testicular cancer combined. Why are these shocking statistics not better known?

November is mouth cancer awareness month and although 88% of British adults have heard of mouth cancer, only 8% are confident in their knowledge about the disease. I spoke with receptionist and treatment coordinator, Mary Tapp, at the Kenton Dental Centre to gain more of an insight.

Dhungana: What are some common signs and symptoms of mouth cancer?

Tapp: Red or white patches in the mouth and ulcers that do not heal within three weeks are a classic example. You can get unusual lumps and swellings in the mouth, neck and jaw. Difficulty or pain in chewing, swallowing or moving the jaw all point towards mouth cancer.

Dhungana: In a mere two decades, mouth cancer has increased by 135%. What are the main causes of this phenomenon?

Tapp: Tobacco is still considered to be the main cause of mouth cancer; with tobacco users six times more likely to develop it. Drinking in excess can also increase the chances by 400%. Additionally, a third of all mouth cancers are linked to poor diet. As processed foods with little nutritional value rise in the market, so too can the risk of mouth cancer. Experts believe that Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) can become the main cause of mouth cancer within the next decade.

Dhungana: How can mouth cancer be treated and what are its affects?

Tapp: As soon as you spot one of the signs or symptoms, we advise you to contact your dentist or GP urgently. You’ll be assessed and if your professional has any concerns, they will refer you urgently to the hospital on a two-week wait referral pathway. Mouth cancer can be treated by surgery alone. However, more often than not, it will be followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Depending on how advanced the cancer is, reconstructive surgery may be needed; meaning further time in hospital.

Dhungana: What are you doing here at the centre to promote awareness and early diagnosis? Tapp: At all dental check-ups, a full mouth cancer screening is carried out on the patient. We ask patients for their tobacco and alcohol habits and will mark a patient as low, medium or high risk of mouth cancer. For November, we have taken part in Mouth Cancer Awareness month. In September, we participated in the Mouth Cancer Foundation: 10K walk – in Hyde Park. We have leaflets available to patients in the waiting room as well as mouth cancer check sheets for medium and high-risk patients to take home.

Dhungana: And finally, what do you think can be done to eliminate people’s fear of dentists and where do you think it originates from?

Tapp: The main fear people have of the dentist stems from a bad experience in childhood. We try to make all patients feel calm and help them overcome any fears they may have. Another issue that stops people attending the dentist is their apprehension of costs. The media portrays dentistry as very expensive, even though this is usually not the case. All adults are recommended to visit the dentist every six months.

Dhungana: Thank you very much for your time.

Nothing can be done, however, if these messages are not spread at peak absorbency: childhood. Positive results will not be seen until the British government ensure cancer awareness in all primary schools across the country. Whether it is through bake sales or integration of the curriculum, all children must have a basic understanding of cancer and its effects. I express my gratitude to not only to Mary Tapp, but every worker and volunteer in the NHS for their tireless efforts to transform lives.

To find out more about mouth cancer prevention, please visit www.dentalhealth.org , www.nhs.uk and www.cancerresearchuk.org .

By Gaazal Dhungana