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Oral Dis. 1999 Jan;5(1):10-4.

Dentists and oral cancer prevention in the UK: opinions, attitudes and practices to screening for mucosal lesions and to counselling patients on tobacco and alcohol use: baseline data from 1991.

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  • 1Royal College of Surgeons Department of Dental Sciences/Dept of Oral Medicine & Pathology, King's College School of Medicine & Dentistry, London, UK. s.warne@kcLac.uk



To investigate the opinions, attitudes and practices towards oral cancer prevention among UK dentists as a baseline from which to measure the need for continuing education efforts in this area.


Postal questionnaire survey carried out in August 1991. A questionnaire with 13 test items was piloted at continuing education courses then distributed to all subscribers of the British Dental Journal with a postage paid return envelope. The aspects inquired into were recent attempts by dentists at updating their knowledge on oral cancer, their practical approaches to screening for oral mucosal diseases and follow-up actions after oral screening, their questions to patients regarding the major risk factors for oral cancer, their efforts towards behavioural counselling for patients and any constraints felt or experienced in this regard.


The questionnaire was circulated to 15,836 dentists. The response rate of 16% was poor but due to the many dentists circulated, 2519 responses were available for analysis. This large sample, though presumptively biased towards those interested in professional matters, showed an encouraging 84% claiming to perform screening of the oral mucosa routinely. Among these, 74% reported referral of screen detected cases to a hospital for further attention and only 4% would adopt a wait and see policy. Disturbingly, half of the respondents did not enquire about risk habits related to oral cancer and, among the other half who claimed to make such enquiries, only 30% routinely provided brief health education advice concerning these. Seventy-one percent agreed that giving advice against tobacco use is desirable but major constraints were identified, notably a lack of training, and frustration regarding patient compliance. There was even greater reluctance on the part of the respondents to enquire into the alcohol use of their patients and to provide advice on alcohol moderation.


Most of this large but unrepresentative sample of UK dentists were carrying out screening of the oral mucosa as a part of their prevention activities in 1991. However, the survey indicated a considerable need for improvement in the manner and extent of provision of health advice in respect of the major risk factors for oral cancer: such a substantial need amongst the presumptively better motivated implies that the need amongst the practitioner population at large is even greater.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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