The purpose of this cross-sectional study was to investigate whether dental hygienists are transferring their knowledge of oral cancer screening into practice. This study also wanted to gain insight into the barriers that might prevent dental hygienists from performing these screenings.
A 27-item survey instrument was constructed to study the oral cancer screening practices of licensed dental hygienists in Nova Scotia. A total of 623 practicing dental hygienists received the survey. The response rate was 34% (n = 212) yielding a maximum margin of error of 5.47 at a 95% confidence level. Descriptive statistics were calculated using IBM SPSS Statistics v21 software (Armonk, NY:IBM Corp). Qualitative thematic analysis was performed on any open-ended responses.
This study revealed that while dental hygienists perceived themselves as being knowledgeable about oral cancer screening, they were not transferring this knowledge to actual practice. Only a small percentage (13%) of respondents were performing a comprehensive extra-oral examination, and 7% were performing a comprehensive intra-oral examination. The respondents identified several barriers that prevented them from completing a comprehensive oral cancer screening.
Early detection of oral cancer reduces mortality rates so there is a professional responsibility to ensure that comprehensive oral cancer screenings are being performed on patients. Dental hygienists may not have the authority in a dental practice to overcome all of the barriers that are preventing them from performing these screenings. Public awareness about oral cancer screenings could increase the demand for screenings and thereby play a role in changing practice norms.