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7 Reasons Dentists Don't Perform Oral Cancer Screenings

Every year more than 60,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer, and someone dies every hour from this horrible, disfiguring disease. But for every diagnosis, there are hundreds NOT diagnosed due to hurried exams and lack of training of all dental personnel on HOW to do proper and through oral cancer screenings.

Here are just some of the reasons why dentists are not doing advanced oral cancer screenings:

  1. Time is money and they don't want to add two or three more minutes to their examination time.
  2. They see the patient as a healthy 30 year old and assume they do not have oral cancer.
  3. Insurance companies do not recognize a complete oral cancer screening with reimbursements, yet it is standard of care in every state.
  4. Dentists dislike using the "C word" to patients for fear of making the patients fearful.
  5. Some dentists and hygienists do not know how to perform an advanced oral cancer screening.
  6. Dentists fear that by sending patients to the ENT or oral surgeon for a false positive, they will get the "overzealous diagnosis" label.
  7. They are not certain the latest technologies such as Oral ID/Velscope/Identifi are actually effective in helping diagnose abnormal lesions in the oral cavity.

But make no mistake, dental professionals owe it to their patients to include a thorough oral cancer screening as part of every preventive care visit.

In addition to regular oral cancer screenings, they need to communicate to patients the important warnings signs to watch out for:

  • sores in their mouth that don't heal quickly
  • excessive sun exposure to the lips
  • tongue pain
  • loose teeth
  • a lump or thickening on the skin lining the mouth
  • poor fitting dentures
  • difficulty in swallowing
  • persistent sore throats

And while tobacco and excessive use of alcohol are still primary contributors, too many patients without those contributors are being diagnosed at an alarming rate. Dental professionals must educate patients about the other causes of oral cancer—specifically, the sharp rise in HPV-related oral cancers. If you are a parent, teacher, or healthcare provider or if your life has been touched by head and neck cancer, it is important that you know the statistics and how you can protect those you love. An important solution is educating pre-teens that some social activities can be deadly due to HPV. Another solution is having young boys and girls vaccinated to prevent HPV-related cancers before they become sexually active.

Many dentists and hygienists do not explain what they are doing while performing an oral cancer screening, so patients don't even know they're getting one. The simple statement: "I'm doing an oral cancer screening" is key in not only letting patients know that you are thorough; it also lets them know you are interested in their total health, not just their teeth.

It is time to stop the turnstile of increased number of deaths from this horrible, disfiguring, and life-threatening disease. This can only be done through education and awareness—through dentists and hygienists picking up the charge that they are, in fact, the only physicians of the oral cavity.

Here's hoping the New Year will bring ALL dentists and hygienists closer to this disease by taking the time to save lives, one at a time. Remember: The life you save could be a patient, spouse, child, grandchild, coworker, neighbor, or friend. In fact, it could be YOUR OWN!

To view a video of a complete oral cancer screening examination, visit