Background: Senior dental students at the three Texas dental schools were surveyed about their attitudes and perceptions of their knowledge and skills in areas related to prevention, detection, and diagnosis of oral cancer, and the management of oral sequelae of cancer therapy methods. A 16-item survey was distributed to a total of 251 fourth-year dental students. A total of 198 completed surveys were returned, for a response rate of 79%.
Results: Just over half of the students had observed a biopsy of oral tissue or read a biopsy report, but only about one fourth had actually performed the procedure. Respondents who had observed or performed a biopsy or who had read a biopsy report were significantly more likely to report that they were comfortable with their competence in performing a biopsy. Although only about half (57%) reported that tobacco-use cessation programs had been discussed in their training and only 14% had received actual training, a much larger percentage intended to provide cessation materials or training in their practices. Likewise, only a fourth had been instructed in prescribing nicotine replacement therapy, but almost two-thirds planned to do so in their practices. Most respondents felt they were comfortable with their skills in counseling patients about oral cancer risk factors, and most felt they would be able to recognize a malignant lesion. Almost all had been taught full head and neck examination technique, and most (84%) were comfortable with their skills in performing such an examination. Smaller percentages reported instruction in the management of the oral sequelae of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Conclusions: Future practitioners are more comfortable with skills that have been practiced in training. These data suggest that an increased emphasis on certain aspects of cancer education within the dental curriculum would result in a more confident, competent practitioner.