Newly-Trained Dental Professionals Lack Attention to Oral Cancer: What Should I Say?

Dear Eva,

I just got home from the dentist and am distressed about the lack of attention my dentist and his staff pay to oral cancer screenings. Is there is a way for you to help? I like my dentist and his hygienist does a great job, but it all stops there. It is noted in my chart that I want an oral cancer screening. They know my husband is an oral cancer survivor! Is that not enough of a reason?

I have to ask for a screening each and every time; Today, when the hygienist completed my cleaning I asked for an oral cancer check, and she replied, “Dr. N. does that with his exam.” Dr. N. came in, checked my x-rays, looked over my teeth, asked me to stick out my tongue, which he grabbed and quickly flipped side to side and then extended his hand to say good-bye! Yep, that was it! He did not palpate ANYTHING!

Rather than become hostile, what should I say? Dr. N, his associate Dr. P. and their staff at both offices need continuing education! It is so disheartening that these “young” newly trained dental professionals lack attention to oral cancer.

Will love to hear your thoughts.

Rose from PA

Dear Rose,
My suggestion is to write this letter:
My husband is a survivor of oral cancer. I expect a thorough oral cancer screening at every check-up as is the ADA guidelines. Pulling out the tongue is just one step in the screening. The floor of my mouth should be palpated as well as my neck. Also, the back of my throat should be checked for symmetry. I really like the hygienist, however, if your practice is unable to provide a thorough oral cancer screening, I need to go elsewhere for the care I pay for and deserve.
Please consider developing a standard of care for oral cancer screenings at both your offices. One way to do this is by showing a screening video and practicing on each other: https://www.sixstepscreening.org/dentist-rdh/video-head-neck-exam/ Early detection saves lives. If you could save one life in your entire career in dentistry by doing thorough screenings, wouldn’t it be worth it??
I look forward to your response about whether you will raise the bar on your screening practices.
Thank you.
Hi Eva,
I am very appreciative of the words you provide in giving me a sense of what to say. I have only been going to this dentist for about two years. I will absolutely take your advice and write a letter to my dentist, enclose a six-step card, and hand deliver it.
I will let you know how I make out.
Thanks again,
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Comments 6

  1. Eva,
    I am glad that you posted my story, because I am sure there are others like me who have not asked for what they need and deserve from their dentist. I took your advice and wrote a respectful letter to Dr. N and copied Dr. P. I hand delivered the letter yesterday around noon. As of yet I have not heard from either of doctor, but am hopeful that I will receive a phone call during the week. If not, I will keep my April 2017 appointment, see what happens and make the decision to stay with the practice or find another dentist. I will keep you and your readers posted, and I hope that anyone reading this post and comment(s), whom might have the same concern with their dentist will have the courage to speak up.
    Thanks for always lending an ear and sharing your thoughts!

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  3. Hello Eva and Rose,
    I’m a dental hygienist, speaker, consultant, trainer and speaker. I speak about head and neck cancer, from prevention and early detection to caring for cancer patients and those living with the effects of cancer treatment. When I coach a team, they must commit to perform a thorough cancer screening, which I teach them or review with them, for every hygiene patient at every appointment. Once a year may be “the standard of care” but it’s not my standard. This is a passion of mine, and if teams won’t commit to this standard, I can’t work with them. I would be happy to go in office with this dental team and help them implement a thorough head and neck cancer screening protocol in their office. I can be reached at kathryn@periolinks.com if they would like to arrange to develop a head and neck cancer program in their office.
    Best, Kathryn Gilliam, RDH

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  4. Kathryn, it would be great if the doctors accepted your offer to train their staff on the importance oral screenings. I hope you contact them. Thank you! Rose

  5. Thank you for sending me this, Eva! I like that not only do you encourage a client to speak with (or write to) her health care provider, but you provide concrete suggestions of how they can implement a standard in their office that should be in place already because of ADA guidelines. It shows the office that a client knows that they are not adhering to legal standards and could be held liable for it, let alone not putting the health of their clients as paramount in their practice.

    Everything you write makes me sit up and think “THIS IS IMPORTANT!” It is important.

    Thanks again,
    Heather Robertson, RDH.

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