Mouth cancer rates set to go ‘through the roof’ as millions fail to visit dentist during lockdown

Dentists have warned that thousands of cases of mouth cancer may be going undetected as a result of millions of people staying away from dental surgeries or being unable to get appointments during lockdown.

The warning from the Association of Dental Groups comes amid mounting evidence that Covid-19 has stopped people going to the dentists.

A major new poll by the ADG indicates that since lockdown began in March, 49% of households have at least one adult who has missed or decided against a visit to the dentist. With 27.8 million households across the UK, this suggests that more than 13 million adults have failed to make a required trip to the dentist this year.

The poll is part of a major campaign that the ADG has launched calling on ministers to take action to deal with a worsening crisis in access to UK dentistry. Within the 49% figure, pollsters found that:

– 17% of households have someone who missed a visit due to difficulty getting an appointment
– 13% of households have someone who decided not to make an appointment
– 11% of households have someone who decided not to go in for a scheduled check up
– 12% of households have someone who did not go to the dentist for another reason

ADG chair Neil Carmichael said:

“The fact that so many people are either failing to get dental appointments or simply deciding against them is deeply alarming. It suggests that a whole host of oral health problems are being bottled up during lockdown and that dentists will be overwhelmed when routine appointments restart.

“Dentists are especially concerned about mouth cancer as routine check-ups are the key to early diagnosis. If this is not happening and the early warning signs are not being detected then mouth cancer rates could soon go through the roof.”

“Ministers must now take urgent action to ensure that we have the NHS dentists we need to deal with what’s around the corner.”

Sarah Ramage, clinical director at Bupa Dental Care, said;

“Dentists play a pivotal role in the early detection of oral cancer through opportunistic screening when a patient presents in a dental practice for a check-up or routine care and by rapid referral of suspicious lesions. Due to COVID restrictions access to routine care is disrupted which is potentially putting patients at risk.”

The latest figures show that 8,337 people in the UK are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year and an estimated 2,701 people lost their life to mouth cancer in the UK last year.

Over the last year, new cases have increased by 10% in the UK. Data shows that mouth cancer cases have risen by 64% in the UK over the last decade and the latest research says that deaths from mouth cancer have increased by 22% compared with five years’ ago.