World No Tobacco Day will be celebrated on May 31, and Dental Health Services Victoria (DHSV) is encouraging dentists to speak with their patients about smoking and oral cancer. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, about 51,550 people are diagnosed with oral cancer in the United States each year, and someone dies of the disease every hour of every day.
DHSV has been designing a program that will help oral health professionals talk to their patients about smoking, which is the leading cause of preventable deaths and diseases in Australia. Smokefree Smiles recognizes that a significant number of oral health professionals aren’t having discussions with their patients about their smoking.
“Patients actually expect us to talk about smoking with them. Yet statistics tell us that only 33% to 66% of oral health professionals regularly discuss smoking with their patients,” said Susanne Sofronoff, manager of health promotion initiatives at DHSV.
“We have found that oral health professionals underestimate the effect they can have on their dental patients when it comes to quitting. In fact, a surprising 20% of unmotivated patients will try to quit after even a short conversation,” said Sofronoff.
Smokefree Smiles promotes a three-step framework—Ask, Advise, and Help—designed to be quick without adding to ever-increasing clinical and time pressures. It highlights simple strategies oral health professionals can employ to have a positive impact on their patients’ smoking habits, including:
- Don’t ask patients about their smoking if you don’t follow through with an offer of help. This will actually reduce the likelihood that they will quit.
- Fill the gaps in their knowledge and show them how to look for signs of smoking damage in their mouths. Smoking significantly increases the risk of developing oral cancer and periodontal disease. Do your patients know what these diseases look like?
- Guide them to the experts. Patients don’t need to quit on their own. Specialist counselors from Quitline and other services help people decide if, when, and how to quit. Such referrals result in higher quitting rates than asking patients to call Quitline themselves.
When it comes to achieving significant behavior changes, DHSV reports, telling people what they should do rarely works. But by talking about smoking with patients, DHSV adds, oral health professionals can help their patients maximize their oral health outcomes.