A day and career to remember

Dr Denise MacCarthy spoke about Mouth Cancer Awareness Day, her career, and her involvement with Mouth Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Ireland.

Would you like to give me some background about your career?
I graduated from UCC in 1977 and worked as a GDP in the UK and subsequently in an Australian outback town. This was great experience, which included work with the “flying dentist” and voluntary work with the Aboriginal Medical Service.
The 1980s were an exciting time. My hospital experience included Cork University Dental School and Hospital (CUDSH), The London Hospital and Dublin Dental University Hospital (DDUH) with Prof. Derry Shanley. Collaborating with the IDA/Irish Society of Periodontology, we encouraged regular periodontal examinations in general dental practice countrywide. We also supported legislation for the legalisation of dental hygienists in Ireland.
I was appointed Senior Lecturer-Consultant in Periodontology and Restorative Dentistry, and held the position from 1991-2019, with responsibility for dental undergraduate education (periodontology) and patient care. Dental undergraduate curriculum development was central to our work.
I established the first dental hygiene programme in Ireland in 1991, working alongside Karin Nylund on this project, and was Director until 2006. As President of the Irish Division of the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) in 2003, we published a ‘History of the First 21 Years of IADR’, recognising research collaboration between the three dental schools and the public dental service.
The first dedicated clinic for oral/dental care of mouth, head and neck cancer (MHNC) patients in Ireland was established in 1997.

Tell me about Mouth Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Ireland?
Mouth Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Ireland (MHNCAI) was founded in 2009 as a voluntary organisation to raise awareness of the risk factors, signs and symptoms, and to promote early detection of MHNC. Groups and national organisations integrally involved in the development of MHNCAI were MHNC survivors, the DDUH, CUDSH, the Irish Cancer Society (ICS), the Dental Health Foundation (DHF), the IDA, and the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP). As well as developing educational material, a website (www.mouthcancer.ie), and engaging with the EU (IDA/Dr Conor McAlister), MHNCAI reached out to rural communities, marginalised and deprived communities, the young and the elderly.
In 2019, the NCCP funded a new consultant post to continue the service I had provided for MHNC patients in the DDUH since 1997 – this work is ongoing with Dr Osama Omer. In 2019, Dr Peter Harrison took over my consultant role in periodontal patient care and undergraduate education. I’m grateful to the DDUH for its enduring support and also colleagues in radiation oncology, especially Profs June Nunn and Leo Stassen, and Prof. Donal Hollywood (St Lukes). I want to recognise the many MHNC survivors whose generous and unstinting support of the MHNCAI Group made its significant achievements possible since 2009. I was chairperson of MHNCAI for a number of years, and want to acknowledge the other previous chairpersons: Dr Lia Mills, author and MHNC survivor; Dr Eleanor O’Sullivan, CUDSH; Etain Kett, DHF; and, Kevin O’Hagan, ICS.

What is being planned for Mouth Cancer Awareness Day 2022?
Following a recent strategic review, Mouth Cancer Awareness Day (MCAD) will now be run annually by the IDA in collaboration with the Irish Cancer Prevention Network (ICPN). Plans for MCAD 2022 are in the capable hands of IDA COO Elaine Hughes, who was instrumental in organising countrywide MCAD check-ups in general dental practice from 2011-2016.

What are the issues you would like to see the IDA focus on?
Establishing strong links was important for the MHNCAI Group. Our successful submission to the National Cancer Strategy 2017-26 recognised, for the first time, oral/dental care as essential for the MHNC patient. I hope the IDA will continue fostering links between dental care professionals, and medical and associated healthcare professionals. I would also like to see the IDA and dental schools leading a positive approach to the mental and physical health of dental care professionals.

How would you like to see the profession progress into the future?
I agree with Ronan King’s aspirations for the IDA, encouraging graduates to bring their ideas, enthusiasm and aspirations for the future of the profession.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
Spending time with my husband Brendan Glass, daughter Hannah and son Henry, who recently had a beautiful daughter with Nora. I enjoy hill walking, water sports, sketching, history, and gardening since retirement.