The Oral Health Foundation said that access to dentistry is in "tatters" and has highlighted many people with disease "will not receive a timely diagnosis" – when they need it most.
Mouth cancer – also known as oral cancer – led to the deaths of more than 3,000 people in the UK in 2021, up 46% from 2,075 a decade ago, figures obtained by the charity and shared with BBC News show.
Nine in 10 people will survive oral cancer – where a tumour develops in part of the mouth – when it is caught early, but this drops to a 50% survival rate when people are diagnosed late, according to the British Dental Association (BDA). With this in mind, it has also warned that accessing care at the right time can be the difference between life and death for some patients.
Mouth cancer can affect any part of the mouth, including the gums, tongue, inside the cheeks, or lips. How serious it is depends on the type you have, how big it is, if it has spread, and your general health.
Oral Health Foundation chief executive Nigel Carter told BBC News that dental check-ups "are a key place for identifying the early stage of mouth cancer".
"With access to NHS dentistry in tatters, we fear that many people with mouth cancer will not receive a timely diagnosis," he added.
With dentistry the second most common issue that people report to Healthwatch England, the patient watchdog has said access to care is the main issue reported within this. Earlier this year it also reported that in some extreme cases, people resort to DIY dentistry.
BDA chairman Eddie Crouch HAS called on the Government to "meaningfully" restore NHS dentistry,
"Every dental check-up doubles as an oral cancer screening," he said.
"When late detection can radically reduce your chances of survival, the access crisis millions face will inevitably cost lives.
"This condition causes more deaths than car accidents. With rates surging we need more than radio silence from Westminster."
Expressing concerns for both adults and children, Louise Ansari, chief executive at Healthwatch England, added, "We are also very concerned that issues in NHS dentistry are contributing to widening health inequalities, with those who can’t afford private dental care or without health insurance not being able to afford timely care.
"Ultimately, the dental system needs fundamental reform to increase and attract more dentists, improve oral health from birth, reduce cost and improve access when required.
"People want to sign up with a local NHS dentist in the same way they register with a GP, knowing they’ll be there for them in the long term to prevent, treat and maintain their oral health."
Who can get mouth cancer?
Anyone can get mouth cancer, but the risk increases with age. Most people are diagnosed between 66 and 70, according to the NHS.
Mouth cancer can occur in younger adults, but it’s thought that human papillomavirus (HPV) infection may be responsible for the majority of these cases. The oral cancer is more common in men than in women, thought to be due to the fact that, on average, men drink more alcohol than women.
What causes mouth cancer?
Mouth cancer occurs when something goes wrong with the normal cell lifecycle, causing them to grow and reproduce uncontrollably.
While it's not always clear what the exact cause is, you may be more likely to get the disease if:
you smoke or chew tobacco, betel nut or paan
you drink a lot of alcohol
you have leukoplakia
you’ve been exposed to a lot of sunlight or sunbeds
you have a weakened immune system, for example, you have HIV or AIDS, or take immunosuppressant medicine
Mouth cancers have also been linked to changes in your genes and having some types of HPV infection in your mouth.
Mouth cancer symptoms
With a variety of possible causes, it's important to know what to look out for. In early stages, mouth cancer symptoms can be subtle and painless, making it easy to miss.
One woman, Charlotte Webster-Salter, 27, was told her mouth ulcers were caused by wisdom teeth and a hectic lifestyle before eventually being diagnosed with oral cancer, having to have part of her tongue removed and remade with muscle from her leg.
After her operation, she had to learn how to talk, eat and walk again through speech and physiotherapy, but she has luckily not needed any further treatment.
Watch: Woman has tongue 're-made' from leg muscles after battling mouth cancer
Remember mouth cancer can occur on the surface of the tongue, mouths, lips or gums. However, tumours can also occur in the salivary glands, tonsils and the pharynx (the part of the throat from your mouth to your windpipe), though these are less common.
Symptoms of mouth cancer, according to the NHS, include:
a mouth ulcer in your mouth that lasts more than three weeks
a red or white patch inside your mouth
a lump inside your mouth or on your lip
pain inside your mouth
difficulty speaking or a hoarse (croaky) voice
a lump in your neck or throat
losing weight without trying
Preventing mouth cancer
While cancer isn't always avoidable, the NHS suggests some ways to help lower you chance of getting it:
eat a healthy diet, including five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
try to cut down on alcohol and avoid drinking more than 14 units a week
try to quit smoking
try to quit chewing tobacco, betel nut or paan
Where possible, make sure you attend regular check-ups, or if you notice anything unusual, seek help from your dentist or doctor. As a guide, see a GP or dentist if your symptoms don't improve within three weeks, especially if you drink or smoke.
In light of concerns over NHS dentistry, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Yahoo Life UK, "We are making progress to boost NHS dental services. Compared to the previous year, 1.7 million more adults and 800,000 more children are receiving NHS dental care and we have announced plans to increase dental training places by 40%.
"The NHS is also treating more people for cancer at an earlier stage than ever before, and we have opened 127 community diagnostic centres to speed up checks, including for cancer."
Here it explains how it is helping more patients to get appointments.
Additional reporting PA.
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