Dr Philip Lewis: The first GDP promoting early detection of oral cancer

Sep 30, 2019

Dentistry’s Charlotte Lloyd speaks to Philip Lewis about life practising on the Isle of Wight and his role as ambassador for The Mouth Cancer Foundation, promoting early detection of oral cancer.


Charlotte Lloyd (CL): What has been your biggest achievement so far in your life/career?


Philip Lewis (PL): My marriage to my lovely wife Joy who gave up her career as a professional ballet dancer to help me with mine. She has given me constant encouragement and support over the past 36 years – even when my ideas were sometimes unconventional. This included paying for international travel to attend postgraduate meetings – even when times were tough. Those early experiences opened my eyes to what our profession has to offer and engendered an enthusiasm in me, which still persists. I realised the true benefits dentists could provide to others and began to understand that trying to give your best leads to real job satisfaction. There’s still so much to learn and the years are running out! I truly believe that pursuing education and being an active member of professional organisations guarantees a lack of boredom and instils excitement into work. In addition, Joy kindly provided me with my beautiful children who have also made it their business to ensure my life has never been boring.


CL: What is the most fulfilling part of your job?


PL: Receiving kind comments from patients. It’s said that most people only make comments when things go badly. I believe this is true and wouldn’t exclude myself from ‘most people’. The pleasure obtained from receiving good feedback is immense and recently I’ve tried to make an effort to compliment others whenever possible for good service, as I believe doing so is an encouragement to constantly improve and develop. As well as this, I know from my own experience how good it makes you feel. As dentists, the high quality of our work should rightly be taken for granted by the public, but a kind word about the comfort or service provided by any member of the dental team goes a long way towards brightening our day.


CL: What challenges are you faced with in running a private practice on the Isle of Wight?


PL: Keeping off the beach! The Isle of Wight is a truly unique place. During my 20 mile-or-so journey to and from the practice (often without seeing another car), I continue to be impressed by the natural beauty of the island and the pleasure of living here. There are other challenges of course. Practising in a coastal area means half your catchment area is under the sea. In addition to that there is heavy competition; when I arrived here there were only 23 dentists on the island. Now there are 64, most of them providing NHS treatment and many working for corporate providers. With a population of about 140,000, that has meant I have had to develop certain skills in marketing. The main challenge is the public’s widely-held perception that all dentistry is ‘the same’ and that the only difference is the price. Persuading potential new patients that there are differences in the level of service various practices offer is always an uphill struggle. The fact that I’m still here and my practice has continued to grow year on year suggests I might have had some measure of success in this endeavour. Most of this growth is down to personal recommendation, so I would encourage all colleagues to make all efforts at enhancing their own reputations by word and deed as well as paying attention to the currently unmissable skills of marketing.


CL: What made you want to become an ambassador for the charity The Mouth Cancer Foundation?


PL: For more than 20 years I have been involved in the early detection of mouth cancer. My interest in this subject started when I attended a postgraduate lecture on oral medicine in the 1990s where it was mentioned, almost in passing, that the disease was increasing in incidence but was hardly ever noticed until it reached an advanced stage. I decided to look into this and discovered that early detection greatly improved a patient’s chances of survival and made treatment a whole lot easier and less unpleasant. My first efforts at introducing an early detection protocol in my practice were largely self-taught but I continued to look for further information and find societies active in this field. Some years later ‘adjuncts’ for early detection were developed and I researched these on the basis that since the incidence of the disease continued to increase despite visual examinations, anything to enhance the technique must be a good thing. I began to give lectures to other dentists. This was a steep learning curve. I gained help from oral surgeons and invaluable advice on examination techniques and protocols. At that time, I believe I was the only general dental practitioner promoting early detection. With the introduction by the GDC of the early detection of mouth cancer as a recommended core CPD subject more and more people began to give presentations and at last lectures became more widely attended. My lecture tours expanded and I attracted the attention of the Mouth Cancer Foundation who invited me to serve as an ambassador for the charity. That was a real honour and it was a delight to accept. I have served the foundation since 2012 and have the privilege of being clinical lead for its Screening Accreditation Scheme. A previous question in this interview; ‘The most fulfilling part of my job’ would certainly have to have been the knowledge that my lectures had led to an early diagnosis by another colleague. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to discover if this is so but knowing that my input has led at least to an increased awareness of this disease is fulfilment enough.


CL: What should dentists be doing to raise awareness of oral cancer?


PL: Don’t get me started! This publication is not long enough! There are very few areas in dentistry where colleagues can truly save lives but this is one of them. While regular early detection examinations are vital, education of the public is at least as important. Do you know, oral cancer accounts for more deaths each year than cervical and testicular cancer combined? Ask the public which of these cancers they have heard of. Chances are a huge number will never even have heard of oral cancer. If this doesn’t impress them, point out that the disease also claims more victims each year than road traffic accidents. Education is essential.

Colleagues should share information about oral cancer and its risk factors with all patients over the age of 16. The Mouth Cancer Foundation www.mouthcancerfoundation. co.uk supplies appropriate material, including information on regular self-examination. At the very least, practices can produce their own in-house information sheet describing risk factors and symptoms patients should be aware of. Information about this is available on the web from a number of sources. Advice can also be disseminated in informational emails, press releases, on websites and a host of other channels. The more the better.

One of the major risk factors for mouth cancer is the use of tobacco. Many practices offer smoking cessation advice. Make sure the prevention of mouth cancer is included among the list of benefits of quitting. Similarly, if you give advice about responsible drinking, even if this is part of oral hygiene instruction (sugar, erosion, staining etc) point out that the regular consumption of spirits is a recognised risk factor for oral cancer and that when combined with smoking increases the risk 30-fold. Prevention really is better than cure and begins with public awareness of potential conditions. Only then can people take appropriate steps to avoid them. The dental profession is uniquely placed to facilitate this and should do everything in its power to assist. Of course, by default colleagues will never receive confirmation that their efforts at prevention were successful but they will have the satisfaction of knowing they have made every effort to improve the life of others and have acted in the ethical and caring way that our profession demands. Spread information about oral cancer. Be a lifesaver!



Philip Lewis BDS ULond is an ambassador for the Mouth Cancer Foundation (www.mouthcancerfoundation.org) and clinical lead of the Mouth Cancer Screening Accreditation Scheme. He has lectured widely on the early detection of mouth cancer in general dental practice and written articles and online material for the dental and consumer press. He acts as a media spokesperson for the British Dental Association and is a member of various dental associations including the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and the European Society of Cosmetic Dentistry. Philip runs a private general dental practice on the Isle of Wight. Spring on the Isle of Wight Philip’s practice Avenue Road Dental Practice