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Dentists say HPV vaccine is a 'no brainer' as cases of head, neck and mouth cancer on the rise

Concerns were also raised about the overuse of antibiotics on children waiting for dental treatment .

Image: Shutterstock/Pascal Raymond Dorland

THE HPV VACCINE is a “no brainer”, the Irish Dental Association has said. 

The Oireachtas Health Committee was told yesterday that there has been a significant rise in cases of head and neck cancer.

Professor Leo Stassen said he treats over 100 cases of mouth cancer each year, which is a “significant rise” on previous years.

The rise in cases has resulted in a “significant stress” being placed on the system, he added.

Yesterday, dentists slammed the government’s new oral health policy stating that key aspects of the public dental service are now to be privatised.

Last month, Health Minister Simon Harris announced the new scheme of dental care for Irish children under the age of six, as well as packages of care for children from birth to 16 years of age.

Stassen criticised the policy stating it will result in an “increased need in extraction not just for children but for adults”. 

Overuse of antibiotics on children

Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell raised a number of issues with the dentists such as the HPV vaccine, the overuse of antibiotics on children waiting for orthodontic or dental treatment and also the miseducation of parents on diet and tooth decay.  

Stassen said there has been a lot of discussion in the media about the HPV vaccine and the prevention of cervical cancer. However, he said it is also a preventative to head, neck and mouth cancer.

“The HPV vaccine has been shown to be protective… it should be given to boys without a doubt… it is one of the most life-saving things that can be produced,” he said. 

He added that dentists are usually the first professionals to diagnose head, neck or mouth cancer. After the cancer is treated and removed, often patients need further treatment from dentists. 

HPV is an “absolute no brainer and I hope the committee will push it for both girls and boys”, he said. 

The dentists present at the meeting yesterday also raised concerns Ireland losing dentists it has trained to other countries through a lack of dental specialist training here.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland warned that this is impacting on resources and resulting in long waiting lists for treatment. 

TD Kate O’Connell, who is also a pharmacist, said she was concerned at the high level of children waiting on dental treatment. She highlighted that children with dental caries, which is also referred to as tooth decay or cavities, are often prescribed antibiotics while they wait for treatment.

“The waiting list is so long for treatment children can be on a continuous dose of antibiotics – I have seen cases of children on antibiotics for over a year,” she said. 

She added that she is concerned about children taking antibiotics over a long period of time, stating that some are spending a “huge portion of their young life on antibiotics” but if they got treatment they might not need antibiotics at all, she said. 

Stassen said the prevention for caries (tooth decay) is early detection. 

“A tooth that gets an abscess and requires an extraction is a failure of the health system. Caries is the big problem,” he said, adding that while the current system allows for children to be periodically seen throughout primary school, many do not present to a dentist until they are in sixth class, aged 12. 

“That is too late,” he said.

To prevent tooth decay, there is a need for fluoride (in the water), a decrease in sugar and improved tooth brushing. He said children can be taught how to brush their teeth properly, but at the same time parents need to be educated about a healthy diet and the effect sugar has on children’s teeth. 

“If we can’t prevent decay from happening in children then you have a serious problem in the future,” he added. 

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