This study investigates whether dental hygienists are routinely conducting oral cancer screenings (OCSs) as per their professional capability and responsibility. Factors that may mediate provision of OCSs, and ability to discuss sensitive topics with patients, are also examined.
A pretested online questionnaire was sent via national and provincial regulatory bodies to target practicing registered dental hygienists across Canada. Analysis was conducted using statistical software.
Results of 256 surveys were analysed. Sixty-four per cent of dental hygienists listed an OCS as part of their regular process of care. Except for the initial examination, respondents were significantly more likely to report being responsible for the OCS than the dentist, P<.001. On average, intraoral components are inspected at higher frequencies (96%) than extraoral components (73%). Confidence in OCS technique was high (70%). The majority felt prepared by their education to conduct OCSs (60%), but those with a bachelor’s degree felt more prepared than those with a diploma, P=.005. The average time to conduct an OCS is 4.09 minutes, with most agreeing there is sufficient time in an appointment (57%). Only 37% felt their education prepared them to discuss sensitive topics, level of education had no effect, P>.05. Only 43% of respondents felt confident in their human papillomavirus (HPV) knowledge and comfortable discussing HPV risk factors with patients.
Dental hygienists in this study are regularly conducting OCSs; however, they lack comfort discussing sensitive topics such as transmission of oral HPV, and screenings may not be fully comprehensive.