Oral cancer examinations and lesion discovery as reported by U.S. general dentists: Findings from the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network

Prev Med. 2019 Jul:124:117-123. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2019.03.034.


General dentists (GDs) have the opportunity to examine their patients for oral premalignancy/malignancy. We estimated the annualized per dentist number of oral lesions suspicious for premalignancy/malignancy discovered by United States (U.S.) general dentists and the annualized per dentist number of histologically-confirmed cancers subsequently diagnosed. Eligible participants were licensed, clinically-active U.S. GDs who were members of the U.S. National Dental Practice-Based Research Network. An a priori sample size of 900 was determined; 2000 GDs were invited to participate; 1,073 completed the study. Self-reported, cross-sectional data were obtained via an online questionnaire during 4/12/2017-8/31/2017 and analyzed. The reported numbers of suspicious oral lesions and histologically-confirmed oral cancer cases diagnosed over the previous six months were quantified. Potential outcome predictors were evaluated as covariates in multivariable analyses. Crude and adjusted statistics were produced by regressing each outcome on each independent variable while assuming a Poisson distribution, log link and utilizing robust standard errors. Eighty-seven percent of dentists reported discovering 1+ lesion suspicious for oral premalignancy/malignancy during the preceding six months. The mean number of suspicious lesions/dentist/year was 9.5; adjusted mean: 9.6. Fifteen percent of participants reported discovering 1+ lesion confirmed as cancer during the same period, 213 confirmed cancer cases/6 months or 426/year. Crude and adjusted mean numbers of histologically-confirmed oral cancers were both 0.4 cancers/dentist/year. Our findings suggest that many U.S. general dentists are actively identifying oral lesions suspicious for premalignancy/malignancy, thereby aiding in the discovery of oral malignancies and representing an important component in the frontline against cancer.

Keywords: General practitioners; Oral cancer; Prevalence; Screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dentists / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Mouth Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States