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  • Writer's pictureNaoise McGrath

Two people every week die from mouth cancer

Mouth Cancer Awareness Day is Thursday September 20th 2017

Two people die every week in Ireland from the ‘silent killer’

This year the focus will be on the homeless and socially excluded groups

Dentists are volunteering to work with Simon, Peter McVerry and the Capuchin Centre

Seminars in Cork and Dublin will focus on groups working with the homeless

An expert in Special Care Dentistry has criticised the lack of access to dedicated flexible service for socially excluded groups in Ireland and said groups like the homeless shouldn’t have to rely on charity.

Professor Blánaid Daly, who previously established a community dental service department for homeless people in London, said that while many homeless people are in the high risk group for mouth cancer because they smoke and drink, the fact that they don’t visit a dentist regularly means the early signs of mouth cancer among homeless people could be much higher. 

She said the recent rise in the levels of homelessness here meant the likelihood of more people falling through the cracks was increasing.

Professor Daly, who is Professor of Special Care Dentistry at Dublin Dental University Hospital, was speaking at the launch of Mouth Cancer Awareness Day 2017 which takes place on Wednesday September 20th.  This year dentists will provide free oral exams for homeless people through the Simon Community’s network in Cork, Dublin and Galway as well as with the Peter McVerry Trust and the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin.

This is the 8th year of MCAD and since it started up to 30 cases of mouth cancer have been detected as a direct result of oral exams carried out on the day.

Seminars  are also being held today (Thursday 14th) in Dublin Dental University Hospital and Cork University Dental  School with the aim of raising awareness of Mouth Cancer among groups working with homeless people .

Professor Daly said visibly poor oral health can very often be a source of stigma and this is why we need to remove barriers to homeless people accessing dental services.

“The reasons for homelessness are very diverse. A lot of people say the lives of homeless people are chaotic but the reality is that life on the streets imposes chaos on them. If you are on the streets where do you keep a toothbrush, toothpaste? What are you eating?  Most will have no control over the latter. Into this challenging mix you may well have issues such as addiction, substance abuse and mental health issues.”

“Homeless people need services to be flexible and accessible.  In the UK anyone claiming income support is entitled to receive the dental treatment they need free under the NHS.  However here in Ireland we can see that homeless people are not accessing primary dental care services. This could be down to dental anxiety, not knowing where to get dental care and not knowing that they are entitled to an annual oral exam. Unfortunately the services which are available on the Medical Card are very limited. So very often things can go unnoticed or undetected and that is why this year our focus is very much on homeless people” Professor Daly said.

Dr Conor McAlister from the Irish Dental Association pointed out that if you drink or smoke the chances of getting oral cancer are up to 40 times greater.

“We are seeing an increase in the incidence of this disease and seeing it in younger people. It’s not just smokers and drinkers. Whatever the cause, the key point to remember is that early detection saves lives.”

“The signs and symptoms of mouth cancer may include a sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal within 3 weeks. Other signs are white or red patches inside the mouth, a lump in the mouth or neck or a persistent sore throat or hoarseness. If you have a concern, make an appointment with your dentist. A lot of people do not realise that they are entitled to a free oral exam once a year under the PRSI and Medical Card schemes” Dr McAlister said.

Three hundred cases of mouth and pharynx cancer are detected in Ireland each year and this type of cancer kills more people – one hundred - than skin melanoma.

According to the National Cancer Registry in Ireland, approximately 50% of all mouth cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage. This can result in more complex treatment with a greater impact on quality of life and overall survival.

Anyone who has concerns about mouth cancer can speak with a specialist nurse in confidence by calling the Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700.


Roisin Whelan, a mouth, head and neck cancer survivor is organising a meeting for other survivors of the disease to tie in with MCAD. The inaugural meeting of the Support Group for Mouth Head and Neck Cancer Survivors will take place next Tuesday 19th September, at the ARC Centre on Eccles Street in Dublin 12.


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We would like to reassure our patients that we will be open providing ALL dental services to all our patients during level 5 restrictions. Dental is considered as an essential healthcare service and w


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