Fewer dental appointments could increase risk of oral cancer, experts warn

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A move to restrict dental check-ups to once every two years could put lives at risk, according to dentists.

Plans to improve oral health, published by the Scottish Government at the start of this year, include a proposal to extend the dental recall interval for low-risk patients up to an interval of 24 months.

A survey of those in the profession suggested this could increase the risk of diseases not being addressed.

The study, by the British Dental Association Scotland (BDA), indicated 97% of 206 dentists working across Scotland’s health boards said the reforms would put oral cancer detection at risk.

It will launch an action plan to combat oral cancers today at Holyrood.

The association welcomed the ambitions set out in the government’s Oral Health Improvement Plan (OHIP) but is concerned it will be funded by cuts to annual appointments for many supposedly “lower risk” patients.

Survival rates from oral cancer are said to increase from 50% to 90% if it is detected early.

BDA estimates the current cost of oral cancer treatment in Scotland is £67.3 million.

The costs are expected to increase to £148.3 million by 2035 due to the anticipation that incidence rates will rise by a third.

The analysis also indicates the cost of treating oral cancer cases per patient is £90,000.

Scotland has had a 37% increase in oral cancer deaths in the last decade, with incidence rates among the highest in Europe

Residents in some of the most deprived communities in Scotland are twice as likely to be diagnosed or die from the condition as those in more affluent areas.

Anas Sarwar MSP has 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.

A former NHS dentist, Mr Sarwar said: “Increasing rates of mouth and throat cancers in Scotland are a matter of serious concern.

“The wide variations in oral cancer incidence and survival rates between different areas and social groups in Scotland are unacceptable, with someone in Glasgow being twice more likely to be diagnosed with oral cancer than someone in Fife.

“The Scottish Government, NHS Scotland and other bodies must develop sustainable and innovative approaches to oral cancer care and work effectively to improve the prevention, detection and treatment of this condition.”

David Cross, vice-chairman 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.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our plans will see patients with poor oral health or other risk factors seen more frequently than at present.

“As part of our strategy for improving oral health and tackling oral cancer, the time between patient appointments will be determined by an assessment of each patient’s oral health.

“We recognise the link between HPV and certain forms of cancer which is why we were the first country in the UK to announce our intention vaccinate adolescent boys against HPV.

“Our Diet and Obesity, Alcohol and Tobacco action plans also recognise that adopting healthier lifestyles can significantly reduce the risk of cancers including oral cancer.”

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