Introduction: Among the head and neck cancers, oral cancer is the 6th most common cancer worldwide. Use of tobacco and its products are the main etiological factor for the development of oral cancer, were it has the unacceptably high mortality and morbidity. In order to reduce this rate, several prevention methods are employed. Secondary prevention of oral cancer plays an important role which includes the screening and early detection of the lesion. In this way general dental practioners plays a major role in this prevention measures. In the current study we aimed to assess the knowledge, as well as the practices concerning the early detection of oral cancer or precancerous lesions, among the general dentists of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Materials and methods: The total of 300 dentists (BDS/MDS) was randomly selected for a 10-item questionnaire survey. The enquired questions include awareness of oral cancer and precancerous lesion, knowledge and usage of exfoliative cytological testing in their clinical practice, practical approaches of dentists towards the screening for oral premalignant diseases, etc. Results: The results were descriptively analysed using excel 2010 version. On correlating the results there was more than 98% (294) of the dentists reported to have not performed exfoliative cytology in their clinics. However, approximately 80% (240) of the dentists suggested that they needed a consultant oral pathologist for the diagnosis of Pre-cancer and oral cancer in their clinic and 90% (270) of dentists conducted biopsies when they encountered clinically suspicious lesions. Conclusion: This survey identified the gap existed in knowledge and practices among general dentists, in the use of exfoliative cytological procedure. This emphasizes the need to increase the use of oral exfoliative cytology in all cases of premalignant lesions and detect the disease at the earlier stage. This simple test can provide the better outcome if practised routinely as a part of screening or diagnosis in the case of suspicious lesion.
Key words: Oral cancer, Exfoliative cytology, oral precancerous lesions.