After my oral cancer diagnosis, my Mom went for her dental check up and you can bet she wanted to be sure she was getting a proper oral cancer screening. When it never happened, she said something to her dentist. “My daughter had oral cancer and I want an oral cancer screening.” He replied that he always takes a good look for that.
That wasn’t good enough. He didn’t pull our her tongue. He didn’t palpate her neck. He didn’t ask her to go Ahhh. Needless to say, that was the last time she went to him.
In my interactions with the many dental professionals I have met over the years through speaking, I have learned about the variations in the coursework on oral cancer required at dental schools. There has been no standard but that is going to change.
According to ADA guidelines adopted in August 2010 and required to be implemented by July 2013, it states:
All graduating students must be competent in providing oral health care within the scope of general dentistry, as defined by the school, including:
a. Patient assessment, diagnosis, comprehensive treatment planning, prognosis, and informed consent.
b. Screening and risk assessment for head and neck cancer.
c. Recognizing the complexity of patient treatment and identifying when referral is indicated.
I have lectured in the past to an audience of both dental professionals and students. When I ask how many perform an oral cancer screening on all their patients, usually about two-thirds of the audience raises their hand. However, I have noticed students’ jaws drop because they can’t imagine there are dentists who don’t do a screening! They are learning how important it is to save a life. They are learning the value of recognizing the early signs of oral cancer.
Change is happening and we can only continue to improve.