Mouth Cancer Awareness Month

Mouth Cancer Awareness Month

How a trip to the dentist saved the life of a Bristol patient

This month is Mouth Cancer Awareness Month and at mydentist we’re raising awareness of the role your dentist plays in early diagnosis of the disease.

Head and neck cancer rates are rising and they are now the eighth most common cancer in the UK. As with any cancer, early diagnosis is vital which is why we recommend visiting your dentist regularly.

Patients do not always know that their dentist looks for changes in their mouths that could be symptoms of oral cancer. Should they see anything unusual, they can refer for further investigation.

That was the case three years ago for Michael Lavender, patient of Dr Neil Schembri at mydentist Highridge Road, Bishopsworth. Michael’s oral cancer was caught after an old filling fell out and he visited the practice for it to be replaced. Noticing changes in his mouth, Dr Schembri referred him to the local dental hospital where cancer was confirmed.

Michael said: “I’d had some white spots on my gums for close to 20 years, but it wasn’t until I began seeing Dr Schembri that he sent me to have them looked at. Back then, the hospital said they were fine, but when I went to have my filling replaced they were a bit sore and Dr Schembri noticed that they’d changed colour, so he sent me back to the be checked out.

That was when it was confirmed to be oral cancer.”

After receiving his diagnosis it was just two weeks before Michael’s surgery to remove the cancer. Surgeons took away part of his jaw and six teeth, rebuilding it with bone from his fibula and skin taken from his leg. He spent two days in intensive care and eight days on a ward before feeling well-enough to go home.

He continued: “The diagnosis was a real shock as I’ve never been a smoker or heavy drinker so it never occurred to me I’d be at risk of oral cancer. I’m just so pleased that Dr Schembri was on the ball and keeping an eye on the changes in the white spots on my gum.

If it hadn’t been for him spotting the signs so early the outcome could have been very different. I’d urge everyone to keep up to date with their dentist check-ups – it might just be life-saving.

Following his surgery, Michael needs check-ups with his consultant every few months but otherwise is fully fit.

Dr Schembri added: People don’t always realise when they’re in the chair the dentist looks at more than just their teeth. We perform soft tissue checks of areas you might not be able to see yourself and look for unusual swelling or lesions that might need to be checked.

I was keeping a close eye on the differently coloured areas of Michael’s gum so as soon as I saw a change I arranged for our reception team to send a fast-track referral back to the hospital for him to be seen straight away.

He leads a healthy lifestyle so wouldn’t typically be thought of as at risk for oral cancer, but his story just shows that it can happen to anyone. Michael had a very positive outcome and we’re thrilled to see him continue to do well.”

Mouth cancer can happen to people of any age, gender and race, but approximately half of all cases diagnosed in the UK are preventable.

According to our charity partner, Cancer Research UK, 17% of oral cavity cancers are caused by smoking. Risk factors also include alcohol, the HPV virus and work-related risks such as exposure to wood dust and formaldehyde.

The risk can be decreased with a healthy diet including plenty of non-starchy fruit and vegetables.

If you want to know more, Cancer Research UK offers lots of resources of what to look out for and how to reduce your risks. Click here to visit their website.

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