Dentists concerned about level of mouth cancer in homeless people

Two people every week are dying from mouth cancer in Ireland, it has emerged.

Those most vulnerable to the killer illness are the homeless, experts have said.

It has now been warned that with the country facing a homelessness crisis, the number of people at risk from mouth cancer is likely to increase.

Blanaid Daly, Professor of Special Care Dentistry at Dublin Dental University Hospital, said homeless people were not accessing primary dental care services and that the services available on the Medical Card were very limited.

Professor Daly added that the recent rise in the levels of homelessness in the country meant the likelihood of more people falling through the cracks was increasing.

To mark Mouth Cancer Awareness Day next Thursday, dentists will be providing 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.

Prof Daly, who previously established a community dental service department for homeless people in London, said: "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," she said.

"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."

Dr Conor McAlister from the Irish Dental Association warned that drinking or smoking could increase the chances of getting oral cancer by up to 40 times.

Three hundred cases of mouth and pharynx cancer are detected in Ireland each year. It kills 100 people annually - this is more than skin melanoma.

"Head and neck cancer predominantly affects people who smoke and drink. Over the years of the awareness campaign, we've emphasised the importance of people attending a dentist on a regular basis so this form of cancer can be picked up at an early stage," Dr McAlister said.

"Unfortunately with the homeless population, they're less likely to attend a dentist and therefore the chances of this disease being picked up early are much less," he added.

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