The Covid Pandemic And Oral Cancer
With limited dental appointments currently available, the risk of a rise in mouth cancer cases is very real
As many of our Bedford patients will be aware, routine dental appointments have not been as widely available as they used to be. The reasons for this are well known.
With a limited number of patients able to be seen by the dentist each day due to Covid restrictions, it is only logical that we should see and treat those who are most in need. We are sure that this is widely understood and anyone who has a dental emergency will be seen as soon as we possibly can, with priority given to those most in need.
These restrictions do mean that some of you may not have had your regular six monthly check ups at The Dental Centre Bedford. This is unfortunate, but hopefully most of you will have taken as much care as possible to limit the risks of tooth decay in these difficult times. There is another area of concern which has been raised following a study by the Oral Health Foundation ( https://dentistry.co.uk/2020/12/01/covid-mouth-cancer-referrals-fallen/ ) which notes that oral cancer referrals have dropped during the pandemic by a third.
This is unlikely to be the good news that a quick glance might indicate. This doesn’t mean that less people have oral cancer but that a large quantity are no longer being picked up as they normally would be during routine dental check ups. There is a serious concern that cases are going undetected and may reach a more advanced stage before they are noticed.
What can patients do?
Many oral cancers are linked to poor oral health and there are certain triggers that can greatly increase your risk. These include smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol. One of the best things that you can do is to stop smoking and seek help if you have a problem with alcohol. You should also make sure to really look after your mouth well including paying special attention to your cleaning regime. A quick brushing of the teeth twice a day is not enough to prevent problems like tooth decay, and definitely not serious health issues like oral cancer.
Below, we offer some advice on how to really look after your teeth and gums. Much of this has been mentioned before but a reminder is important, especially in these difficult times.
- Brush your teeth well twice a day with nothing but water consumed after your night time brushing. Use a brush no older than 3 months and angle the bristles so that they reach beneath the gum line. Spit but don’t rinse afterwards to enable the fluoride to take effect.
- Use floss to clean between your teeth. Bacteria and food commonly collect here and a toothbrush may not remove it. It can feel a little tricky at first but there are many videos available showing you how to do it. Perseverance will really pay off and improve the health of your mouth.
- Stay well hydrated. Dehydration causes a dry mouth and bacteria thrive in this environment. A plentiful supply of water also means that bacteria and food particles will get flushed away more easily.
- Don’t smoke at all and keep your alcohol consumption to a sensible level. Not only will this reduce your oral cancer risk but also reduce the risk of gum disease. There have been recent studies that indicate your risk of dying from Covid is significantly higher if you have periodontal disease.
- Even if you have had difficulty in getting a routine appointment with a dentist, it is definitely worth trying to get one with a hygienist. This is a great way of helping maintain a clean and healthy mouth. It also enables someone to see inside your mouth and if they see anything that causes concern they may recommend that you see your GP to have it checked.
- Don’t delay. If you notice anything unusual in your mouth, don’t ignore it. It may well prove to be nothing, but do contact your GP if you notice any possible symptoms that might include:
- Mouth ulcers that don’t heal within a couple of weeks
- Lumps of the soft tissue in the mouth such as tongue etc
- Red or white patches
- Loose teeth or bleeding
Remember that all cancers respond better to early treatment, so please don’t put off contacting your GP as soon as you can.
With the vaccination rollout now well under way, we hope that things will gradually start to return to normal. Whilst we don’t expect that to be the case for a little while, we are looking forward to the day when we can offer our full range of treatments without restrictions.
Until that time, please do take care to look after your teeth, gums and mouth as well. Remember too that you can still contact us by phone if you have any questions. You can call The Dental Centre Bedford on 01234 819868.