Dentists to help educate patients on oral cancer risks


For immediate release: Wednesday, 14 November 2012

UK-wide dental defence organisation MDDUS is reminding dentists to play their part in achieving early detection of oral cancer by educating patients of the risks and warning signs.

November is Mouth Cancer Action Month, a campaign that aims to raise awareness and improve understanding about oral cancer in both the public and the profession.

The campaign, co-ordinated by the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF), estimates that over the next decade around 60,000 people in the UK will be diagnosed with mouth cancer and, without early detection, half will die.

MDDUS is encouraging dentists to ensure they are up-to-date with their CPD on improving early detection of oral cancer so they can help patients understand the risks and symptoms.

“Failure to diagnose an intraoral malignancy obviously has severe and often tragic repercussions for the patient,” says MDDUS dental adviser Rachael Bell. “Dentists need to be up-to-date with their CPD on diagnosing oral malignancy early and should be aware of what local measures are available for rapid access to maxillofacial services.”

Mouth cancer can appear in different forms and can affect all parts of the mouth, tongue and lips. It can appear as a painless mouth ulcer that does not heal normally or as a white or red patch in the mouth.

Many dental practices are playing an active role this month by offering free oral cancer screenings as part of the campaign to raise awareness. “As well as offering free oral cancer screenings, practitioners can educate patients and help them understand the risks associated with their lifestyle choices,” adds Bell.

“For example, advise patients on ways to reduce the risks with healthy eating, smoking cessation and sensible drinking.”

Between May 2009 and May 2012, the GDC dealt with 15 fitness to practise cases involving issues of oral cancer. Proper examination and good record keeping are essential for dentists wanting to keep out of trouble with the GDC.

“The only defence to a claim made following delayed diagnosis is if adequate examination of the patient was made, backed up with proper notes in the dental record,” says Bell.

“Unfortunately, we are still seeing dental records that amount to ‘Exam SP’, with no mention made of how an examination was carried out and what was examined or found.

“Some dentists’ notes are behind the times. It is tempting to blame time pressure but carrying out a thorough examination really needs backed up by a good record of that examination and copies kept of referrals made. Otherwise, little can be done in their defence.”

MDDUS recommends that all practitioners make note of current recommendations with regard to examination and dental records. “The Faculty of General Dental Practitioners (UK) book, Clinical Examination and Record Keeping, is the gold standard to which we should all strive to attain,” adds Bell.

“Where there is an allegation of failure to diagnose an oral malignancy, we would be looking for notes in the records of; an extra-oral examination, soft tissues being examined and the findings - even if the findings are that the tissues are healthy. The notes also need to reflect whether smoking cessation and alcohol-related advice has been given and what was said.

“If there is any doubt about an intraoral lesion then refer early, keep a copy of any referral letter and any response from maxillofacial services.”

Guidance has been produced By NICE which practitioners should be aware of and would be advised to abide by.

Further details can be found on the Mouth Cancer Action Month website.


For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK. For further information on MDDUS go to

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