Mouth-cancer deaths fear over NHS dentist shortageon November 8, 2023 at 12:40 am

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

The numbers dying from the disease have risen steadily over the past 10 years, figures show.

Ray Glendenning paid for a private dental appointment which discovered an aggressive cancerous tumour

Lack of access to dentists is costing lives because mouth cancers are not being spotted or treated early enough, a health charity has told BBC News.

The disease killed more than 3,000 people in 2021 – up 46%, from 2,075 a decade ago, latest figures obtained by the Oral Health Foundation show.

And last year, a BBC News investigation revealed 90% of UK NHS dental practices were not accepting new adult patients.

The government has announced plans to increase dental-training places by 40%.

It also said the NHS was treating more people for cancer at an earlier stage than ever before.

Aggressive tumour

Ray Glendenning, 64, thought a very painful swelling in his jaw was being caused by one of his teeth – but he did not have an NHS dentist.

When he began to find it difficult to open his mouth, he tried to find one and book an emergency appointment.

“I must have tried for a week, phoning two or three dentists a day,” he says.

“There was an NHS dentist taking on NHS patients – but there were 800 people on the waiting list, so basically waiting for people to die to take new patients on.”

When Ray finally paid £50 to see a private dentist, he was diagnosed with an aggressive tumour. He is convinced the decision saved his life.

“The options were surgery or six months of palliative care,” he says. “The options aren’t options really – I didn’t want to die.”

Ray Glendenning paid for a private dental appointment which discovered an aggressive cancerous tumour

Six months ago, just weeks after being diagnosed, Ray had 16 hours of surgery to remove the tumour and a new jaw formed out of bone and muscle from his leg.

He spent six weeks recovering in hospital before starting weekly radiotherapy sessions. He remains limited to a liquid diet and needs a walking stick.

“It’s the system that’s broken – not the individual dentists,” Ray says.

“We’re lucky we could afford to pay. People that don’t have £50 could be dead.”

Oral Health Foundation chief executive Nigel Carter says dental check-ups “are a key place for identifying the early stage of mouth cancer”.

“With access to NHS dentistry in tatters, we fear that many people with mouth cancer will not receive a timely diagnosis,” he adds.

There were 9,860 cases of mouth cancer in the UK in 2020/21 – up 12% on the previous comparable year, according to the Oral Health Foundation.

The independent charity used a Freedom of Information request to obtain the data from:

  • the Office for National Statistics
  • Public Health Wales
  • Public Health Scotland
  • the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry
Ray and his wife before his diagnosis

Image source, Ray Glendenning

Early detection results in a roughly 90% survival rate, compared with 50% following delayed diagnosis.

“Every dental check-up doubles as an oral-cancer screening,” Eddie Crouch, who chairs the British Dental Association, says. And the crisis millions of people face accessing dentists “will inevitably cost lives”.

“This condition causes more deaths than car accidents [cause],” he adds.

Head and neck cancers are the eighth most common cancer in the UK.

In England, more than two-thirds of mouth cancers are in men.

Most cases are linked to smoking – but alcohol misuse and human papillomavirus (HPV) infection through oral sex have been linked to the rise.

About a third are on the tongue – but they can also be on the lips, gums and parts of the throat.

Symptoms can include:

  • a mouth ulcer lasting more than three weeks
  • a red or white patch inside the mouth
  • a lump in the mouth, lips, neck or throat
  • pain inside the mouth
  • difficulty swallowing or speaking or a hoarse or croaky voice
Sinead Marland was 39 when she noticed a lump on her tongue

Sinead Marland was aged 39 when she noticed a lump on her tongue that was a bit uncomfortable.

Her GP said it was an ulcer, gave her some cream and told her not to worry – but two months later, she had a very different reaction from her NHS dentist, who gave her an urgent referral for a biopsy, which revealed she had tongue cancer.

“I had never heard of mouth cancer, so it was quite upsetting and just a bit of a shock,” Sinead says. She had smoked 15 cigarettes a day for about 20 years.

During 10 hours of surgery, half of Sinead’s tongue was replaced with part of her forearm and blood vessels. A second operation removed even more of her tongue.

Sinead Marland was 39 when she noticed a lump on her tongue

The neck scarring is the worst, she says.

“It’s very visual. It really knocked my confidence,” Sinead says.

“If I went out, I would cover up my neck with a scarf and wear long sleeves to hide the skin grafts.”

Over the following months, Sinead had to relearn how to speak and eat – but she feels lucky she had a dentist who spotted the early signs of cancer.

“If he hadn’t spotted it, I never would have gone back,” Sinead says.

“I wouldn’t have been diagnosed. I wouldn’t be here.”

How to lower the risk of mouth cancer

  • Eat a healthy diet, including five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week
  • Quit smoking and chewing tobacco, betel nut or paan

Source: NHS.UK website

The Department of Health and Social Care said progress was being made to boost NHS dental services.

It said 1.7 million more adults received NHS dental care between June 2021 and June 2023 compared to between June 2020 and June 2022.

“The NHS is also treating more people for cancer at an earlier stage than ever before and we have opened 127 community diagnostic centres to speed up checks, including for cancer,” an official said. ​​

Related Topics

- Advertisement -

Discover

Sponsor

Latest

Why looting, protests and COVID-19 haven’t pounded the stock market

One of the biggest questions in some circles of Wall Street right now: How in the world is the stock market still climbing higher...

RFU rejects Worcester plan for Championship return, but approves Wasps applicationon December 16, 2022 at 12:40 pm

Worcester's application to return to professional rugby next season is rejected by the RFU, but Wasps are approved.Worcester's application to return to professional rugby...

Premier League transfer window opens – who could be on move this summer?on June 10, 2022 at 5:05 am

The Premier League transfer window opens with clubs able to officially register summer signings.

Italy shipwreck: Dozens of migrants killed in Calabria shipwreckon February 26, 2023 at 10:33 am

A boat reportedly carrying 100 people broke apart while trying to land at a seaside resort.Image source, Italian Red CrossBy Kathryn ArmstrongBBC NewsMore than...

Greece plane crash: Cargo aircraft was carrying weapons to Bangladesh – ministeron July 17, 2022 at 8:29 am

People within a two kilometre radius of the scene of a plane crash in Greece are warned to stay indoors.Image source, EPAA cargo plane...