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​Oral cancer: Restricting dental check-ups to once every 2 years could put lives at risk 

13 November 2018


Dentists have warned today that plans to extend the gap between appointments to beyond 12 months could jeopardise efforts to tackle Scotland's fastest growing cancers.


As BDA Scotland launches its action plan to combat oral cancers in Holyrood today, it has revealed survey evidence showing 97% of dentists in Scotland now have concerns that moves to extend recall intervals could undermine detection or oral cancers – with 77% defining it as a major or severe risk.

Dentists are often the first health professionals to detect oral cancer during routine check-ups. While the BDA has welcomed the ambitions set out in the new Oral Health Improvement Plan (OHIP), it has expressed dismay that it will be funded by cuts to annual appointments for many supposedly 'lower risk' patients. Oral cancers can occur in patients with good oral health and a healthy lifestyle - nearly 5 oral cancer cases are diagnosed every working day, with survival rates improving from 50 per cent to 90 per cent with early detection.

Dentist leaders have published new analysis showing oral cancer cases are now costing NHS Scotland up to £90,000 per patient - with an estimated annual cost of over £65 million - set to more than double by 2035 if the disease goes unchecked.

Scotland has seen a 37% increase in oral cancer deaths in the last decade. Incidence rates are among the highest in Europe – with residents in our most deprived communities twice as likely to be diagnosed or die from the condition as those in more affluent areas.

Anas Sarwar MSP has now tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for sustainable and innovative approaches to oral cancer treatment, and expressing concern over the potential impact of the OHIP. BDA Scotland is calling for a strategic focus on early detection, prevention and joining-up services, with measures including sufficient resources for alcohol treatment and smoking cessation programmes, and a catch-up programme to offer 140,000 older school-aged boys access to the vaccination programme for the cancer-causing Human Papillomavirus (HPV). 

David Cross, Vice Chair of the BDA's Scottish Council said:

"Dentists are on the front line of a battle against some the fastest rising cancers in Scotland. Early detection is key, but now risks becoming a casualty of a cost-cutting exercise.


"People in otherwise good health are succumbing to this disease. Telling our 'lower risk' patients to come back in two years will only handicap efforts to meet a growing threat, while putting further pressure on NHS cancer services.


"Oral cancer now claims three times as many lives in Scotland as car accidents. Rather than chasing quick savings we need to see concrete plans and real investment to help turn the tables on this devastating but preventable disease."


Scotland oral cancer awareness campaign

BDA Scotland is supporting the Oral Health Foundation's campaign during Mouth Cancer Action Month, which takes place each November.

With oral cancers, the key is spotting early on: early detection results in a roughly 90 per cent survival rate, compared to a 50 per cent survival rate for delayed diagnosis - we are campaigning to raise awareness of the issues, and provide resources for dental professionals to use.