Patients not realizing that you perform a critical examination at every hygiene visit – The Oral Cancer Screening. This is a cancer with a high death rate. Not because it is hard to discover or diagnose, but due to the cancer being routinely discovered late in its development. Don’t let one of your patients become a death rate statistic because they do not show up regularly for their hygiene visits.
To encourage patients to keep their scheduled hygiene appointments, we recommend your patients understand how important the “routine” head, neck and soft tissue examination is to their health and wellbeing. This cancer is no longer only prevalent in older males with a history of smoking. Because the cancer has been conclusively linked to the sexually transmitted HPV viral infection, it is important for younger patients to make this examination a high priority.
Dental teams need to all be trained on the importance of the oral cancer screening and know the statistics that are associated with oral cancer. We recommend creating an oral cancer fact sheet on your letterhead that can be given to patients. Let patients know they will be screened for this as part of their new patient visit.
Too often teams are afraid to use the term oral cancer for fear of frightening the patient. It is much more important to educate the patient regarding the statistics, the prevalence of oral cancer, and your efforts at a thorough examination and the early detection of anything that looks remotely suspicious.
“Mrs. Jones, as part of your preventive care visit today, I will be examining your head and neck and the hard and soft tissues of your mouth for any unusual lumps, bumps, ulcers or sores. These are indications of oral cancer. Have you had a chronic sore throat or noticed any sore spots in your mouth that have not healed? You will notice me feeling around with my fingers and charting my findings for comparison at future visits. This is one of the most important services we can provide our patients and we will want to screen you again in 6 months. I have included a fact sheet on oral cancer statistics and risk factors, please share it with your friends and family and make sure they go to a dentist to get an examination.”
To help build value for the hygiene visit and to promote compliance to the recommended interval, have a discussion about the service you are providing rather than just going through the motions and completing the screening. Patients are educated to have other regular screenings such as skin cancer, mammograms, colonoscopies, and pap smears. We need to raise the bar with our dental patients and keep them coming to see us in a timely manner. It is not “just a cleaning” it can be a potentially life-saving visit.