Michele Trewhella, a dental hygienist from Dentistry at Oceana Boulevard in Southampton has been practising since 1974. Throughout her career she’s played a prominent role within her dental team to help detect mouth cancer, something she takes firmly in her stride.
“Every practice I have worked in has always had a big focus on checking for suspicious signs”, she said. “The holistic approach to treatment I have found has always been the one to produce results. As part of a patient’s initial consult, we perform a thorough soft tissue examination, primarily on the tongue, cheeks and parts of the throat. In my opinion, there’s nothing more valuable we as dentists can do for a patient than catch mouth cancer early.”
Throughout her career, Michele picked up one incidence of mouth cancer in 2008, before a spate of three in 2010. It’s always a topic she’s been comfortable talking to the patient about, a step Michele believes commands greater respect.
“I have always found patients to be incredibly receptive”, she said. “They feel very well looked after. If the patient even takes a small bit of responsibility for their actions and regularly attends the dentist, we have a much better chance of catching the disease early. We have the ability to spot it so early it can remove the need for chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
“Half of the battle is that the symptoms are often painless. People respond to pain by visiting their GP or dentist, a reason I firmly believe mouth cancer claims so many lives.”
Taking responsibility is a topic that resonates with Michele, as she has the power to single-handedly change someone’s lifestyle. As public awareness of the disease is ‘way too low’ according to Michele, it’s little wonder oral cancer lags behind others in terms of development. She told of how mouth cancer will ‘instantly flick a switch in the patient’s world’ about their current lifestyle and changes that need to be made. “The first patient I diagnosed was so grateful she changed her lifestyle altogether. It’s a very powerful tool.”
Knowledge of mouth cancer may not have been at the top of the dental team’s agenda in times gone by, according to Michele, but now more are aware of what they’re looking for and what to do if they suspect something isn’t quite right. Michele said: “Now mouth cancer is a big issue within the dental team, it’s easier to approach the subject with patients, it’s easier to spot things that might be suspicious, and it’s also easier to rule out quite common ailments.
“Cancer may be a really difficult subject for some people, so being able to say ‘we’re going to send you for another look, just to rule out X, Y and Z’ makes a big difference. People need to realise the first port of call really should be the dentist, as we have the tools in order to be thorough about your examination.
“The mouth is the barometer of good health. With so many links between oral health problems and general body health, the emphasis has to lie with the dental professionals to catch this disease early and ultimately save lives.”
Have you helped to identify mouth cancer? Contact the Foundation’s PR Department on 01788 539792 or firstname.lastname@example.org to help raise awareness during the campaign and throughout the year.