On March 9, the United Kingdom (UK) celebrated No Smoking Day. Yet dentists around the world can take this opportunity to discuss the links between smoking and oral health. In particular, they can review the symptoms of oral cancer to promote awareness of the disease and encourage their patients to quit smoking.
“This is a great opportunity for dentists and their teams to remind patients of the risks of tobacco use for their oral health and the support available to help them quit,” said Russ Ladwa, health and science committee chair of the British Dental Association (BDA).
The BDA offers downloadable graphics that dentists can post on their social media to encourage patient awareness of oral cancer. It also has teamed up with Cancer Research UK to produce an online toolkit that helps dentists improve their own knowledge about preventing and detecting oral cancer, including instructions for conducting exams.
Additionally, the BDA has published “Early Detection and Prevention of Oral Cancer: A Management Strategy for Dental Practice,” now available for download. Practitioners also can attend “Oral Cancer: Identify, Refer and Prevent” in London on Friday, June 17, for 5.5 hours of core verifiable continuing professional development.
According to the British Heart Foundation, only 44% of smokers in the United Kingdom are worried about the negative effects of smoking on their teeth, and only 27% are worried about its effects on their gums—even though smoking can lead to gum disease, tooth loss, stained teeth, bad breath, and plaque, in addition to cancer.
“Most smokers don’t think they will get it, but the research shows that 3 in 4 people who have mouth cancer have smoked at some point in their lives,” said Dr. Vinod Joshi, founder of the Mouth Cancer Foundation. “In addition, people who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk of developing these cancers than people who use either alcohol or tobacco alone.”
Early detection is considered the key to surviving oral cancer. When it is discovered in its initial stages, survival rates can be as high as 80% to 90%. But most oral cancer isn’t found early, because its lesions often get overlooked or misdiagnosed. And when it isn’t diagnosed until stages 3 or 4, survival rates drop to 40% to 50%.
The BDA and the British Association of Dental Therapists (BADT), then, encourage dentists to make oral cancer screenings part of their practices. The BADT even calls for “making every contact count,” with oral health checks on each and every patient and especially engaging those who smoke in discussions about the dangers of the habit.
“No Smoking Day, like any other national health awareness campaign, offers health professionals the perfect opportunity to draw attention to lifestyle habits and their health risks,” said Fiona Sandom, president of the BADT.
“We want patients to be aware that mouth cancer is a very serious health risk and to encourage them to give up smoking for good,” Ladwa said. “Dentists are perfectly placed to ensure any problems in the mouth are picked up early and referred appropriately.”
Secondhand smoke jeopardizes children’s oral health as well. According to a 6-year survey of almost 80,000 children, it increases the risk of caries by one and a half. With more than 33,000 children admitted to hospitals for tooth extractions under general anesthetic in the past year in the UK, getting parents to quit could have a big effect on oral health.
“Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your own mouth, but you also have to be aware of the terrible effects it can have on those around you,” said Dr. Nigel Carter, OBE, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation. “If reducing the risk of secondhand smoke can make even a small impact on these horrendous figures, then it will be a hugely positive thing.”
“Dental teams can talk to people about their smoking history, provide them with information about the options available to help them, and put them in touch with specialist cessation programs,” said Dr. Mike Knapton, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation. “Every contact with a patient counts and can be crucial in encouraging a smoker to quit for good.”