Mouth cancer rates set to go ‘through the roof’
Claim comes as dentists warned of legal liability over missing signs
Dentists have said that thousands of cases of mouth cancer may be going undetected as a result of millions of people staying away from dental surgeries or being unable to get appointments during lockdown.
The warning from the Association of Dental Groups comes amid mounting evidence that Covid-19 has stopped people going to the dentists. A poll by the ADG indicates that since lockdown began in March, 49 per cent of households have at least one adult who has missed or decided against a visit to the dentist. With 27.8 million households across the UK, this suggests that more than 13 million adults have failed to make a required trip to the dentist this year.
The poll is part of a campaign that the ADG launched calling on Government ministers to take action to deal with a worsening crisis in access to UK dentistry. Neil Carmichael, the ADG’s chair, said: “The fact that so many people are either failing to get dental appointments or simply deciding against them is deeply alarming. It suggests that a whole host of oral health problems are being bottled up during lockdown and that dentists will be overwhelmed when routine appointments restart.
“Dentists are especially concerned about mouth cancer as routine check-ups are the key to early diagnosis. If this is not happening and the early warning signs are not being detected, then mouth cancer rates could soon go through the roof. Ministers must now take urgent action to ensure that we have the NHS dentists we need to deal with what’s around the corner.”
The latest figures show that 8,337 people in the UK are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year and an estimated 2,701 people lost their life to mouth cancer in the UK last year.
Over the last year, new cases have increased by 10 per cent in the UK. Data shows that mouth cancer cases have risen by 64 per cent in the UK over the last decade and the latest research says that deaths from mouth cancer have increased by 22 per cent compared with five years’ ago.
At the same time, the Dental Defence Union (DDU) is advising dentists to be aware of the signs of oral cancer in an article featured in the latest edition of the DDU journal1. The DDU opened 104 files between January 2013 and August 2020 relating to oral cancer, including 69 claims. In the majority of these cases, the dental professional allegedly failed to check the patient for oral cancer during their check-up, did not diagnose a suspicious lesion, or there was a delay in referring the patient to a specialist.
Making an early diagnosis has become more challenging due to the restrictions placed on dental practices in response to COVID-19. Eric Easson, DDU dento-legal adviser said: “It is advisable to have a low threshold of suspicion when it comes to any lesion or swelling, particularly when the patient is in a high-risk group. If patients themselves complain of symptoms but there is no obvious problem, be prepared to seek a second opinion and investigate further if necessary.”