Assessing Oral Cancer Early Detection: Clarifying Dentists' Practices

Objectives. This study explores new methods for assessing in greater detail what dentists do when they perform oral cancer early detection examinations. It clarifies practice behaviors, and opens opportunities to identify factors that facilitate thorough early detection examinations by clinicians, and to assess the relative effectiveness of different examination procedures. Methods. A 38-item survey instrument was emailed to dentists in a western U.S., multi-state dental practice group. Questionnaires were received by 241 dentists, and 102 responded. An Oral Cancer Knowledge scale (0 to 14) was generated from correct responses on oral cancer general knowledge. An Oral Cancer Examination Thoroughness scale was calculated from the two dimensions of reported usage and frequency of procedures in oral cancer examinations. Results. Nearly all responding dentists were in general practice (90%), with a median year of graduation from dental school of 1994. The Oral Cancer Knowledge scores ranged from 5 to 14 with a mean of 10.4. The mean Thoroughness of Examination score was 11.34 (range 0 to 20). The two scales were not statistically correlated (r=-0.015, p=0.883). Statistically, recency of continuing education was significantly associated with knowledge (p=0.0284) and appears to be marginally associated with thoroughness (p=0.075). Conclusions: This study documents considerable variability in dentists’ knowledge and thoroughness of examinations. The scales provide tools for future studies for improving understanding of early detection of oral cancer in clinical practice.