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Oakham dental hygienist from MyDentist raises awareness for Mouth Cancer Action Month

‘If in doubt, check it out’ is the message from a dental hygienist this Mouth Cancer Action Month.

Oakham dental hygienist Sarah Keeling, known by colleagues and friends as Bobby, has made it her mission to raise awareness of mouth cancer after seeing the number of cases rising.

November marks a month of action by the Oral Health Foundation to make people aware of the signs of mouth cancer, which kills about 2,700 people each year.

Sarah Keeling , dental hygienist at MyDentist in Oakham
Sarah Keeling , dental hygienist at MyDentist in Oakham

Sarah, who works at MyDentist in Maresfield Road, said: “What people don’t necessarily understand is when you are coming to see a dentist for a regular screening, we do an oral cancer check by looking at all of the soft tissues, any lumps and bumps, red and white spots, and ulcerations.

“Particularly as a dental hygienist I’m always on the lookout for pink things whereas a dentist is focused on the white things.”

According to Sarah, 56, dental teams are seeing an increase in mouth cancer cases and referrals post-pandemic.

She believes this is due to a change in people’s lifestyles with the three main causes of mouth cancer being smoking, diet and alcohol consumption.

While Sarah says there is not enough research to link vaping and mouth cancer, it causes inflammation which is a concern.

HPV can also make a person more susceptible, although the vaccines fighting against cervical cancer are also thought to reduce the rates of mouth cancer.

“This month is a chance for us to bring about awareness and encourage people to check at home,” said Sarah, who lives in Grantham.

Mouth cancer is more common in people over 55 and comes in different forms affecting the mouth tongue and lips.

It can appear as an ulcer which does not heal normally or as an unusual lump in the mouth or jaw.

If spotted early the chances of a complete cure are good, but if not Sarah says it can be fatal or life-changing.

Sarah acknowledges that many people are scared of the dentist but urges everyone to go for regular check-ups every six to 12 months.

“I don’t know any animal on this globe to want to let someone into their primary airway and to stop them speaking.

“We understand dentistry is not everyone’s priority but we want to provide a high level of care.”

Sarah joined the military at the age of 17 as a dental nurse.

After leaving her final station RAF Wittering in 1995 she re-trained at The Open University to specialise as a hygienist in complex gun problems.

“I wanted to understand what helps make a difference by listening and learning,” she said.

“It is very patient-focused care.”

Sarah’s advice to keep a healthy mouth is to not smoke, reduce alcohol intake, eat a balanced and healthy diet, visit the dentist regularly and brush your teeth at least twice a day.

For a step-by-step video guide on how to check for mouth cancer, visit the Oral Health Foundation on YouTube.

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