The Common Practices of Head and Neck Examinations in U.S. Dental Offices


Worldwide, there were an estimated 274,000 new cases and 127,000 deaths attributed to oral cancer (OC) (ICD-O C00-C06), and over 600,000 new cases of head and neck cancer (HNC) reported in 2008. Over 70% of U.S. dentists self-report performing oral cancer (screening) examination (OCE) on most of their patients over 40 years of age, although the completeness, quality, frequency and validity of these examinations are unknown. Regardless, 18% of adults (8% of Blacks and 7% of Latinos) aged 40 years and over are reported to have had an OC examination in the last year.  Moreover, only 20% to 29% of adults reported ever having had an OCE. The overall goal of the project was to ascertain common practices related to oral cancer examinations by U.S. dentists and dental hygienists, by geographic region, demographics and practitioner and practice characteristics.
This was a National Dental Practice-Based Research Network (National Dental PBRN) survey study that consisted of 2 components: 1) a questionnaire survey (33 questions), and 2) sixteen standardized clinical case-vignette presentations with 6 specific process questions. National Dental PBRN general dentists and dental hygienists were invited to participate in the study to describe the details of the OCE, including who, what, when, where, and why, as well as the details involved with patient disposition of newly discovered “suspicious” for oral pre-malignant or malignant lesions.