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Over 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with, and more than 9,750 people die from, oral cancer each year. This means the disease will kill one person per hour for every hour of every day. Not only is oral cancer more common than the general public realizes, but its rate of occurrence is rapidly increasing. Surprisingly, cancers of the mouth, throat, tonsils, and tongue have become more widespread among young, non-smoking populations, pointing to a new trend in the risk factors associated with the sickness.

As these cancers continue to affect the population, it’s more important than ever for doctors, dentists, and other healthcare professionals to spread awareness. Here are four simple tips to raise awareness for cancer in your dental office and ensure happy and healthy patients.

Encourage Your Patients to Get Regular Examinations

Early detection is essential to treating oral cancer and saving lives. Sixty percent of all individuals with oral cancer will survive for at least five years. The earlier the stage at diagnosis, the higher the chance of survival with treatment. In oral cancers at stage 1 or 2, the overall survival rate jumps from 60 to 90 percent, which makes early treatment especially important. While early diagnosis is vital to providing more efficient treatment, many patients may not even realize they need to be screened for oral cancer.

Encouraging your patients to get regular screenings is not only a great way to bring the risk of cancer to their attention, but it also helps you initiate a conversation. Once you share the importance of screening for oral cancer, you’ve opened a line of communication for future visits.

In addition to expressing the importance of being examined by a healthcare professional, you can also teach patients how to perform a self-examination. For patients who may be intimidated by the idea of going to a doctor or dentist for an exam, they might feel more comfortable knowing that they can complete one in the comfort of their own home.

Educate Patients about Common Symptoms

Another way you can raise awareness for and help patients detect oral cancer is to tell them about common symptoms. There are several engaging ways you can do this that don’t involve adding time to a patient’s visit. For example, you can create posters to include around the office, and informational flyers or trifolds to hand out to patients after their annual checkups.

Consider educating your patients about the following signs and symptoms of oral cancer:

  • Lip or mouth sores that don’t heal
  • White or reddish patches on the inside of the mouth
  • A growth or lump inside the mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Mouth pain
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty swallowing

As you educate your patients about oral cancer, it’s important to make them feel as comfortable as possible. Remember, your first priority to raising awareness for cancer is to start a conversation so that the patient feels comfortable talking to you.

Inform Patients of Risk Factors and Prevention

Like educating your patients about common symptoms, telling them about possible risk factors and preventative measures could prevent future cases of oral cancer and lead to earlier diagnoses. You could choose to include these tips in the same infographic, flyer, or trifold as before, or you may want to start a conversation with your patients should you notice any alarming changes in the health of their mouth.

As you inform patients about preventative measures, it’s the perfect time to educate them about possible risk factors, especially if they are at a higher risk for any of the following reasons: 

  • Gender: Oral cancer is twice as common in men than women.
  • Age: They are older than 55.
  • Alcohol consumption: The majority (70 percent) of people diagnosed with oral cancer are heavy drinkers. 
  • UV light exposure: Lip cancers are more common among people who have prolonged exposure to sunlight.
  • HPV: HPV infections may develop into cancer. People with oral cancers linked to HPV are usually not smokers or drinkers.
  • Tobacco use: The majority (80 percent) of patients with oral cancers use tobacco—usually in the form of cigarettes or chewing tobacco.

By educating your patients about risk factors and preventative measures, you provide them with the tools they need to take responsibility for their health.

Foster Open Communication

The ultimate goal of informing your patients about oral cancer and the importance of regular examinations, common symptoms, and risk factors is to foster a comfortable relationship with them. The more often you can talk to patients about their oral health, the more you will be able to communicate with them moving forward. If you can give patients the tools they need to identify oral cancer early enough, that’s great. If you can make them comfortable enough to come to you should they face any concerns, that’s even better.

Not only can building a strong relationship with your patients help you raise awareness for oral cancer and save lives, but it can also improve the success of your dental practice. Your patients will likely feel more satisfied with their care, be more responsive to your advice, and refer their friends and family to your office. 

Making sure your patients know about the risk of oral cancer should be a priority in your operations all year round. By taking the time to encourage your patients to examine their mouths and educate them about common symptoms and risk factors, you can foster better relationships for the future. Both you and your patients will appreciate it.