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Dentists prepare for Mouth Cancer Action Month

Dental professionals up and down the country are gearing up for one of the most important campaigns of the year, Mouth Cancer Action Month. This year’s campaign, which is run by the Oral Health Foundation in conjunction with the Mouth Cancer Foundation, will launch on 1st November.

As November approaches, practices and health experts are encouraging patients to be mouth aware. Mouth cancer doesn’t have the media profile of other types of cancer, yet it kills more people in the UK than cervical and testicular cancer combined. In the last 10 years, the number of cases diagnosed in Britain has risen by almost 50%.

One of the most pressing problems for health professionals is a lack of awareness about oral cancer. Many people are aware of the symptoms of cervical, breast and bowel cancer, for example, but surveys suggest that a worrying proportion of people don’t even know that oral cancer exists. Around 75% of people do not know what kinds of symptoms to look out for, and this means that the vast majority of cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage. While survival rates have improved significantly for other types of cancer in recent years, progress for oral cancer has stalled and this is largely due to the fact that patients are diagnosed late. 

As Mouth Cancer Action Month looms, dentists and doctors are encouraging patients to look out for signs such as abnormal lumps and swelling in the mouth and throat, white and red patches, unexplained oral pain or bleeding and ulcers that take a long time to heal. Dental professionals are also keen to promote regular routine check-ups, which include oral cancer checks as standard, and to urge patients to get involved in initiatives run as part of this year’s campaign. Practices will be offering free screening checks and many are also staging events and hosting activities to raise funds for mouth cancer charities and get patients talking about this potentially deadly disease.

For more information about Mouth Cancer Action Month, visit www.mouthcancer.org.

Scottish Association Speaks Out on Waiting Times

The British Dental Association (BDA) of Scotland has called on the government to do more to tackle oral surgery waiting times.

The BDA has spoken out after a Freedom of Information (FOI) Request from the Scottish Liberal Democrats revealed that some patients have waited more than 120 weeks for ‘life-changing’ maxillofacial treatment.

The FOI request found that one patient in Grampian waited 243 weeks (4.6 years) for an outpatient procedure – falling far short of the government’s 12-week waiting target.  

The figures cover treatment for mouth, jaw, face and neck treatments which can restore functionality following injury or serious illnesses like oral cancer – one of Scotland’s fastest growing cancers.

BDA Scotland said problems filling consultant vacancies, as well as underfunding for primary and secondary dental care were fuelling the wait-time crisis.

The number of hospital referrals for tooth extractions is also on the rise, because of the lack of support for senior clinicians in high street clinics in training younger dentists, BDA Scotland said. 

High street dentists are currently paid just £16.25 for an extraction. Data published in June revealed more 5,000 people had been waiting for more than 12 weeks for dental extractions in Scottish hospitals. 

David McColl, Chair of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee said: “Patients shouldn’t be waiting eons for life-changing surgery. These procedures can help restore both functionality and appearance to a patient’s teeth and mouth after cancer or serious injuries.

“Years of underinvestment and failure to support high street practice are heaping huge pressures on our hospitals. Ministers can’t go on treating dentistry as an optional extra in Scotland’s health service.”

Project Cuts Scottish Decay

A dental health scheme is helping Scotland win the war on childhood tooth decay.

New figures from the department of health showed a significant long-term decrease in the number of children needing fillings and extractions.

Since 2000-01 the number of fillings given to children has fallen 62% from 774,762 to 298, 192 in 2019-19.

Meanwhile, the number of tooth extractions has fallen 35% from 133,000 to 86,000.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “These figures show a significant reduction in both the number of fillings given to children as well as the number of teeth extracted.

“This reflects the substantial impact the Scottish Government’s Childsmile Programme has made in improving the oral health of children.

“Our Oral Health Improvement Plan, with its strong focus on prevention and reducing oral health inequalities, will help to ensure further reductions in the need for restorative treatment.”

Delivered by health professionals in the education, voluntary and health sectors, ChildSmile is a nationwide project aimed at improving children’s dental health.

It provides practical advice on brushing and encourages children to do so for at least two minutes at a time. 

The programme also advises youngsters to spit instead of rinsing after brushing to allow the toothpaste time to protect teeth.

New study suggests gum disease increases high blood pressure risk

A new study suggests that people who have gum disease are more likely to develop high blood pressure. 

Researchers at the Eastman Dental Institute at University College London found that hypertension was more common in patients with advanced gum disease. As well as discovering a link between gum disease and high blood pressure, the research team also found a linear correlation between the severity of gum disease and the level of risk. Those with severe periodontitis were most likely to develop high blood pressure.

Professor Francesco D’Aiuto, study author, explained that the findings demonstrate a relationship between hypertension and gum disease, which suggests that patients who have periodontitis should be made aware of the risks. Those who are at risk of developing high blood pressure should receive advice and be checked regularly to see if further treatment is required. High blood pressure is one of the most significant risk factors for heart attacks and strokes. 

As part of the study, the researchers examined and analysed data from a total of 81 projects spanning 26 countries. They found that patients who had moderate-to-severe gum disease were up to 22% more likely to suffer from hypertension, while the odds almost doubled in those with the most severe cases of periodontitis. 

Dr Eva Munoz Aguilera, from the Eastman Dental Institute, described the findings as “not negligible” and explained that increased blood pressure plays a crucial role in determining heart attack and stroke risk. 

Symptoms of high blood pressure are not easy to spot, and most commonly, they are detected as part of routine tests or examinations for other symptoms or conditions. In addition, many people leave symptoms of gum disease untreated, increasing the risk of premature tooth loss and systemic health problems. The advice from Prof D’Auito is for patients to attend regular dental appointments, to get signs of gum disease checked out, and to undergo regular blood pressure checks if they are diagnosed with gum disease.

Giant pandas undergo their first dental checks in Chengdu, China

Going to the dentist can be a nerve-wracking experience, but a group of giant pandas in Chengdu, China has breezed through their first check-up with no problems at all. 

A group of around 20 pandas was recently visited by dental experts, who provided a round of routine checks for the playful inhabitants of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Before the check-ups, the pandas were anaesthetised. Once the effects had become visible, the team set about carrying out X-rays and examining the teeth to look for signs of decay and infection. Pandas are susceptible to oral disease because of their diet, which is predominantly made up of hard and sharp foods. 

While the wild panda’s diet consists almost exclusively of bamboo, pandas in captivity are often given additional food items, including fruit and vegetables. As pandas graze constantly, it’s vital that their teeth are healthy and strong. If a panda was to develop an infection or cavities in the teeth, it would be extremely hard to find a substitute for bamboo, and this would almost certainly have a devastating impact on the health of the panda. 

The centre staged a mass dental treatment session earlier in the month after receiving funding from a panda charity based in Macau.

South African veterinary dentist, Cedric Tutt, was charged with the responsibility of providing the dental examinations, and he was assisted by a team of on-site vets, as well as dental experts from other parts of China. Twenty of the centre’s 184 pandas were selected at random to undergo checks, with the majority emerging with a clean bill of health. There were some minor symptoms of gum disease and tartar build-up detected, which have now been addressed.

The check-ups mark the first comprehensive routine dental programme for pandas in China’s history, and they represent a major step forward in the conservation of this treasured, unique black and white bear.

Chinese scientists develop new tooth-repairing gel

Chinese scientists have developed a new tooth-repairing gel, which could spell the end of fillings.

Researchers at the Zhejiang School of Medicine have created a unique gel formula, which is capable of regenerating the tooth enamel. The team’s innovative liquid solution contains calcium and phosphate ions, which are mixed into an alcohol-based solution with an organic compound known as trimethylamine. The formula produced minute clusters of calcium phosphate, which measured 1.5nm in diameter. This substance is the main component of enamel. 

When applied to the tooth surface, the researchers found that their gel created a new layer of enamel. In just 48 hours, the gel had produced an enamel coating, which was approximately 3 micrometres in thickness. 

Dr Zhaoming Lee, co-author of the study, explained that the newly-produced enamel has the same properties as natural enamel tissue, and could therefore help to promote enamel growth and tooth repair without the need for fillings. The team is hoping to start trials involving human participants within the next two years. 

The discovery is exciting because natural enamel tissue is not capable of regeneration, and as such, we rely on fillings and other restorations to strengthen the teeth, fill cavities and repair damage. With this gel, it may be possible to restore the teeth without using additional materials, which will enhance patient satisfaction, improve the longevity of results, and save money.

Having discussed the development of the new gel with dental professionals, Dr Lee, study leader, Professor Tang Ruikang, and the rest of the team are confident that this is a solution that can make a real difference within the world of dentistry, and it could pave the way for a new way of permanently protecting and restoring the teeth. Dr Sherif Elsharkawy, a prosthodontic expert from King’s College London, described the breakthrough as “very exciting.”

The findings of the study have been published in the Science Advances journal.

Cancer charity calls for HPV vaccine to be made available for older boys

A leading cancer charity has called for the HPV vaccine to be made available for older boys and young men. 

The Teenage Cancer Trust believes that the injection should be available for older teenagers and young men, as well as 11-13 year-olds. The HPV vaccine will now be provided for teenage boys, having only been given to girls for the last 11 years. Introduced in 2008 to try and reduce cervical cancer rates, the vaccine has been provided routinely for girls aged 11-13, with extremely positive results. Campaigners believed that the vaccine should be offered to boys too on the basis that HPV strains are linked to other types of cancer, many of which affect males. 

The government has now agreed to expand the school immunisation programme to include boys aged 11-13, but the Teenage Cancer Trust believes that the scheme should be extended further to include older boys and young men. The vaccine is currently available for men and teenagers over the age of 13, but at a cost of £150. 

Representatives from the charity stated that research had indicated that 76% of older boys and young men would want the immunisation if it was available for free. Only a third would be willing to pay a fee. 

TCT chief executive, Kate Collins, suggested that the vaccine should be provided to anyone who wants it up to the age of 25. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed that boys in Year 8 will be entitled to free vaccination from the start of the school year and suggested that extending the scheme to cover older boys would have a “limited benefit” due to the herd immunity already established as a result of over 10 years of immunisation for girls. The theory is that immunising girls will help to reduce the risk of cancers linked to HPV in the future, and rates will continue to drop once the vaccination programme for younger boys launches.

Study shows athletes have poor dental health, despite good oral hygiene habits

New research has shown that athletes have poor dental health, despite the fact that many have good oral hygiene habits.

A study conducted by scientists at UCL revealed that elite sportspeople tend to have poor dental health, even though they devote more time to looking after their teeth. Research teams interviewed a group of 352 athletes, including some who were gearing up for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They found that the majority were more likely to brush their teeth twice a day and floss than the average person, but that standards of oral health were generally lower.

Previous studies have highlighted the prevalence of dental problems among footballers and athletes, and researchers have suggested that elite performers have to work harder to achieve better dental health. In the UK, around half of adult athletes have signs of decay, compared to a third of non-athletes within the same age groups. 

The most recent study, which has been published in the British Dental Journal, aimed to determine why it was more difficult for athletes to maintain good oral health. During the trial, researchers from UCL interviewed performers from 11 sports, including rowing, sailing, cycling, swimming, rugby, football, athletics, and hockey. They found that 94% brushed twice-daily, which was significantly higher than the general public (75%), and 44% flossed daily, which was also higher than the public at 21%. 

While diets among athletes were generally much healthier than the average adult, there were issues, most notably the use of sports and energy drinks, energy gels, and bars that contain a lot of sugar. 

Dr Julie Gallagher, a member of the research team, explained that athletes tend to opt for drinks and snacks that provide a quick energy boost, and the sugar content in these products contributes to an elevated risk of decay and enamel erosion. Of those surveyed, almost 90% admitted to consuming energy drinks.

Adult braces are more popular than ever before

In years gone by, braces were associated with teenagers and youngsters battling orthodontic imperfections, but today, the story is very different. While braces remain a very effective treatment for children with issues that affect tooth alignment, more and more adults are opting to have orthodontic treatment.

According to the British Orthodontic Society, three quarters of members have experienced an increase in the demand for adult orthodontics, with many practices deciding to invest in state of the art equipment to provide their clients with the latest treatments on the market. Barclays Bank has almost doubled the amount of money lent to dentists in the last two years.

Experts believe that the soaring popularity of adult braces is due to a combination of factors, including a positive shift in attitude towards adult treatment, the development and availability of new, discreet, rapid treatments, and the rise of the selfie and social media. The images that we tend to see of smiles in the media and social feeds depict flawless teeth, and dentists are seeing more patients who come in with an idea of what they want their smile to look like based on celebrity looks and photographs from social platforms or magazines. Celebrity endorsements have also made braces a bit cooler than they used to be, with famous faces like Fearne Cotton and Miley Cyrus among those to take the plunge and undergo treatment during their adult years.

Lucy Setter was 27 when she decided to have braces. Having had two children, Lucy decided that she wanted to focus on herself a bit more. She had been to see an orthodontist at the age of 14, but was scared to have braces and decided against treatment. She then went for a consultation at the age of 19, but again put treatment off, as braces are only available free of charge on the NHS for children. Later in life, Lucy wanted to feel more confident, and she found a dentist that offered a payment plan. Now, having had braces and two more children, Lucy said she finally feels confident when she smiles, and this has filtered into every aspect of her life.

Scientists discover new stem cells, which could help to repair and regenerate teeth

Scientists at Plymouth University have made an exciting discovery, which could make regenerating the teeth a possibility in the future. 

A team of researchers from the university has discovered a new group of stem cells and the gene, which activates it. This group is responsible for the formation of skeletal and tooth tissue, most notably dentin. Dentin is the hard tissue that protects the nerves, the blood vessels and the pulp tissue, and it is found beneath the enamel surface. At the moment, when a tooth is damaged, it can only be restored, usually by means of a crown or a filling. With this new stem cell research, it could be possible to regenerate damaged tissue and effectively grow new teeth. 

Lead researcher, Dr Bing Hu, said that the importance and value of stem cells is well-documented, but to fully understand the capabilities of stem cells, it’s crucial to learn how they work. The group discovered new stem cells, as well as the gene that activates them, known as Dlkl. By finding the stem cells and the gene, and investigating how Dlkl is involved in stem cell regeneration, the team has made major strides to understand stem cell regeneration. The research can now form a base for further exploration and to determine how to develop lab-based techniques for human use. 

Co-author of the study, Prof Christopher Tredwin, head of the Peninsula Dental School at Plymouth University, said that the research will hopefully provide dental patients with more effective, affordable solutions for tooth problems and injuries in the future. 

Dental injuries and diseases are commonplace in the UK, with 170 extraction procedures carried out on under 18’s every day.

The findings have been published in the Nature Communications journal. 

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