Irish dentists raise concerns over missed oral cancer diagnoses during lockdown

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Dentists in Ireland have raised concerns over missed oral cancer diagnoses during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Mouth cancer is becoming more prevalent in Ireland, yet public awareness remains poor. Routine dental examinations provide a golden opportunity for dentists to spot early warning signs of oral cancer, and as such, dentists are worried that many cases could go undiagnosed due to the closure of practices. 

Professor Leo Stassen, president of the Irish Dental Association, warned that delays could cost lives, with people unable to attend check-ups and backlogs mounting. Before the pandemic, dentists in Ireland spotted around 150-180 cases of mouth cancer per year, and without access to routine services, there is a real fear that cases will be diagnosed at a later stage when treatment is less likely to be successful. Many patients will ignore symptoms because they don’t realise that they are linked to mouth cancer, and others will avoid reaching out to their GP or dentist because they’re worried about leaving home or visiting a surgery due to the virus. During lockdown, Prof Stassen has identified two cases of mouth cancer after concerned patients sent photographs online. 

Mouth cancer is becoming more common, but survival rates have stalled, largely due to the fact that many are unaware of the signs and symptoms they should be looking out for. Common symptoms include red or white patches in the mouth, abnormal swelling and lumps in the mouth or throat and slow-healing mouth ulcers and sores. Anyone who does have concerns is encouraged to contact their dentist or their GP.

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