RATES of mouth cancer are predicted to rise as people struggle to be seen by dentists who spot the disease.
The disease killed over 3,000 people in 2021 – up 46 per cent, from 2,075 a decade ago, latest figures from the Oral Health Foundation reveal.
It comes as the number of dentists working in the NHS in England has dipped to the lowest since 2015.
Michelle Vickers, CEO of the Head and Neck Foundation, told the Sun the lack of NHS dentists is a "catastrophe waiting to happen".
She said: “Dentists are an essential part in the front-line fight and diagnosis of oral cancers.
"Every dental check-up should include a mouth screen for the signs of cancer.
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"This situation is fundamentally due to the failings of successive UK governments inadequately funding the provision of NHS dentistry."
Eddie Crouch, chair of the British Dental Association, added: "When late detection can radically reduce your chances of survival, the access crisis millions face will inevitably cost lives."
"This condition causes more deaths than car accidents [cause]," he said.
Nine in ten people will survive oral cancer if it is caught early, but this drops to 50 per cent when people are diagnosed late.
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Head and neck cancers are the eighth most common cancer in the UK.
Most cases are linked to smoking and alcohol misuse – but human papillomavirus (HPV) infection caught through oral sex has been linked to the rise.
Poor oral health might also be a precursor for the disease.
Mouth cancer can appear as a mouth ulcer which does not heal.
It can also present as red or white patches in the mouth, or unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth, head or neck.
Research shows that one-in-three mouth cancers are found on the tongue and almost one-in-four are discovered on the tonsil.
When keeping an eye out for the illness, you should also check the lips, gums, inside of the cheeks, as well as the roof of the mouth.
Recent data from The British Dental Association revealed 23,577 dentists were carrying out NHS treatments in 2022/23, down from 24,272 the previous year.
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The last time the figures fell below 24,000 – apart from during the Covid pandemic – was in 2014/15.
Commenting on the figures, Daisy Cooper MP, Liberal Democrat health and social care spokesperson, said: “People should not have to make an impossible choice between paying hundreds of pounds for private care, or going without and risk having a life or death disease unchecked."
The 4 signs of mouth cancer you need to know
In the early stages the signs of mouth cancer can be subtle and painless.
The potential symptoms of mouth cancer are:
- A mouth ulcer that does not heal within three weeks.
- White or red patches in the mouth.
- Unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth, head or neck.
- Any persistent ‘hoarseness’ in the voice.
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