Lords put emphasis on dentists’ role in oral cancer fight
The House of Lords held a debate on the cost of alcohol abuse and oral cancer to the NHS last night. The discussion sought to reduce the burden this problem places on the public health service.
The bad effects of alcohol on the mouth, most often appearing in the forms of dental erosion, caries and periodontal disease, were pointed out by Lord Colwyn, Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dentistry and Oral Health. He went on to explain that sometimes these problems can develop into oral cancer and that around 70% of those diagnosed were heavy drinkers. The risk was also exacerbated in those that both smoked and drank, with oral cancer being 38% more likely.
He emphasised that dentists were the first point of call in the fight against oral cancer, as they are in the best position to diagnose it during early stages, potentially even before patients identify symptoms and get help themselves. He also pointed out that dentists are the only health workers who see healthy patients routinely, which means they can provide advice to those who drink above the risk levels, warn them of potential future health problems and direct them to their GP or local alcohol services where necessary.
Ending the discussion, Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy reinforced the comments of his colleague, highlighting the invaluable role played by dentists in the early diagnosis and potential prevention of oral cancer. He cited the recently launched online alcohol training resource for dental teams created by Public Health England and expressed his hope that it would soon be mandatory within the profession. Such preparations could potentially save the NHS a lot of money in the future if dentists are equipped to notice symptoms early on.