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MANY of us may see a trip to the dentist as a chance to get a quick scale and polish, perhaps a filling or two, maybe even some light cosmetic work – but according to a new nationwide survey arguably their most important job goes unnoticed.

With mouth cancer rates increasing by over 40 percent in the last decade it has become one of the UK’s fastest growing cancers and it is up to our dentist to check for the early warning signs.

Yet, results from a recent survey by the British Dental Health Foundation reveal only 15 percent of us believe the dentist to be checking our mouths for the early symptoms of a disease which kills someone every five hours in the UK.

Almost two thirds of us didn’t know whether our dentist looks for any symptoms of mouth cancer during a routine check–up while the remaining quarter did not think they were being examined at all.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, wants to reassure you that checks do take place during your regular dental visit.

Dr Carter said: “During your routine dental check–up your dentist or hygiensist performs a full examination of not only the teeth and gums, but the cheeks, tongue and floor of the mouth too. They look for anything unusual in the mouth. With the number of new mouth cancer cases increasing greatly each year, everyone throughout the profession understands how important it is to check for any symptoms.”

The importance of early detection speaks for itself – 9 in 10 people survive mouth cancers that are caught early yet as most people are only diagnosed late in the disease the five year survival rate remains as low as 50 percent.

The survey was carried out by the British Dental Health Foundation as part of November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month and quizzed over 1,000 people throughout the UK.

The campaign aims to tackle the importance of checking our mouth for any unusual red or white patches, unusual swellings in the mouth or neck or an ulcer that does not heal within three weeks.

All these are potentially signs of something being wrong and you should go along to your dentist or doctor – ‘If in Doubt Get Checked Out!’

Previously, the disease has been five times more common in men than women, however recently, more women than ever are being diagnosed and it is now only twice as common in men as women. Age is another factor, with people over the age of 40 more likely to be sufferers, though more young people are now being affected than previously.

Dr Carter added: “The main risk factor for mouth cancer is tobacco use with alcohol the second most common and people who smoke and drink to excess are 30 times more likely to develop the disease. Recently, HPV, the human papilloma virus, also responsible for cervical cancer has also been discovered to be a cause. Spread by oral sex, over three quarters of women will be affected at some time in their lives and as a result we are seeing more younger people affected.

“Next time you visit your dentist, ask about the disease, its symptoms and how to check for them at home – you might be surprised about how much knowledge you go away with.”

For further information visit the dedicated campaign website mouthcancer.org, alternatively, the National Dental Helpline is available Monday to Friday for free and impartial expert advice on 0845 063 1188.

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