Oral Cancer Rates May Get Worse as Pandemic Limits Dental Appointments

Dentistry Today
Photo courtesy of the Oral Cancer Foundation.


Photo courtesy of the Oral Cancer Foundation.

Dentists in the United Kingdom have warned that thousands of cases of oral cancer may be going undetected as a result of millions of people missing dental appointments during the pandemic lockdown, according to the Association of Dental Groups (ADG).

According to an ADG poll, 49% of households have at least one adult who has missed or decided against a visit to the dentist since the lockdown began in March. With 27.8 million households in the United Kingdom, the ADG said, this suggests that more than 13 million adults have failed to make a trip to the dentist this year.

The poll is part of an ADG campaign calling on the government to take action to deal with a worsening crisis in access to dentistry in the United Kingdom. Within the 49% figure, the poll found that:

  • 17% of households have someone who missed a visit due to difficulty getting an appointment.
  • 13% of households have someone who decided not to make an appointment.
  • 11% of households have someone who decided not to go in for a scheduled checkup.
  • 12% of households have someone who did not go to the dentist for another reason.

“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,” said ADG chair Neil Carmichael.

“Dentists are especially concerned about mouth cancer as routine checkups 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,” he said. “Ministers must now take urgent action to ensure that we have the NHS dentists we need to deal with what’s around the corner.”

“Dentists play a pivotal role in the early detection of oral cancer through opportunistic screening when a patient presents in a dental practice for a checkup or routine care and by rapid referral of suspicious lesions. Due to COVID restrictions, access to routine care is disrupted, which is potentially putting patients at risk,” said Sarah Ramage, clinical director at Bupa Dental Care.

According to the ADG, 8,337 people in the United Kingdom are diagnosed with oral cancer each year. Also, 2,701 people died as a result of oral cancer in the United Kingdom last year. Plus, new cases have increased by 10% in the United Kingdom over the past year. Over the past five years, cases increased by 22%. And over the past 10 years, they have risen by 64%.

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