24 September 2015

During November the UK’s leading oral health charity is aiming to save lives by ensuring visual mouth cancer checks are carried out properly during every check-up.

Organised by the British Dental Health Foundation, Mouth Cancer Action Month aims to promote how correct examinations can lead to a reduction in the amount of lives lost to mouth cancer by highlighting the significance of early detection and prevention.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, outlined the importance of conducting proper mouth cancer checks: “One of the most important things we can do as dental professionals in the battle against mouth cancer is catching it early by recognising the signs of the disease.

“By catching mouth cancer early enough the chances of survival increase significantly to 50 per cent from 90 per cent, highlighting why early diagnosis is so very important. I am calling on all dental professionals to brush up and ensure they know how to adequately carry out mouth cancer checks.

“During all mouth cancer examinations we need to be on the lookout for ulcers which have not healed within three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth and any unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth, head and neck area.”

As part of every check-up dentists are required to carry out a visual examination on their patients for the early signs of mouth cancer. It is important that you know how to carry out an effective examination and also communicate with your patient what you are doing and what you are looking out for.

Follow these 7 simple steps when carrying out a mouth cancer check:

  • Head and Neck – Look at the face and neck. Do both sides look the same? Look for any lumps, bumps or swellings that are only on one side of the face.
  • Neck – Feel and press along the sides and front of the patient’s neck. Can you feel any tenderness or lumps?
  • Lips – Pull down the lower lip and look inside for any sores or change in colour. Next, use your thumb and forefinger to feel the lip for lumps, bumps or changes in texture. Repeat this on the upper lip.
  • Cheek – Use your finger to pull out the cheek so that you can see inside. Look for red, white or dark patches. Put your index finger inside the cheek and your thumb on the outside. Gently squeeze and roll the cheek to check for any lumps, tenderness or ulcers. Repeat on the other cheek.
  • Roof of the Mouth – Tilt back the patients head and open their mouth wide to see if there are any lumps or if there is any change in colour. Run your finger on the roof of the mouth to feel for any lumps.
  • Tongue – Get your patient to stick out their tongue and look at the surface for any changes in colour or texture. Gently pull out the tongue holding it with a piece of gauze and look at one side first, then the other side. Look for any swelling, change in colour or ulcers. Examine the underside of the tongue by asking the patient to place the tip of their tongue on the roof of the mouth.
  • Floor of the mouth – Look at the floor of the mouth for changes in colour that are different TH from normal. Gently press your finger along the floor of their mouth and underside of the tongue to feel for any lumps, swellings or ulcers.

“During Mouth Cancer Action Month, many dental practices offer patients or local groups free oral health checks with mouth cancer examinations. This is a great way to support your local community, promote awareness of the illness, and at the same time help develop the profile and goodwill of your practice,” added Dr Carter.

“These events promote early detection, as well as education, not just to the patient themselves but through word of mouth it will also improve awareness among their family and friends. So whether it’s for the whole month, a week, a day, or one afternoon, your participation is crucial and can make a significant difference.

“Mouth cancer is one of the UK’s fastest increasing cancers, with cases up by almost 40 per cent in the last decade alone. Being on the frontline in the fight against mouth cancer, the support and participation from the dental profession is instrumental in helping us combat a disease which takes more lives every year than testicular and cervical cancer combined.”

Last year, more than 1,500 dental professionals supported Mouth Cancer Action Month through informing patients and local people about this rapidly increasing disease, the causes and symptoms, the benefits of good oral health for our overall health and the message that when mouth cancer is picked up earlier, treatment is more likely to be successful and lives saved.