There is a “shocking” divide in dental health standards between north and south and rich and poor, a new report says.
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The report by the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation found a “consistent gap” between the dental health of the rich and poor, with people from the most deprived backgrounds twice as likely to be admitted to hospital in need of dental work than those better off.
The report, which analyses publicly available data on dental health outcomes, said that there was a pattern of evidence that dental health is better in the south and east than in the north of England.
While the authors noted that dental health is improving in general, they added that without action to decrease inequalities, progress in dental health will come to a halt. “As a nation, our dental health is improving,” said Prof John Appleby, the Nuffield Trust’s director of research. “But it is shocking that your income or where you live can still determine your dental health.”
The findings showed that 14% of people from deprived backgrounds had been hospitalised in need of dental work, against 7% of the better off. It also said that 18% of parents with children eligible for free school meals found it difficult to find an NHS dentist in 2013, compared with 11% of parents whose children were not.
Tooth decay remains the number one cause of child hospital admissions in the country. Eighty-three per cent of five-year-olds in the richest regions of the country had healthy teeth, compared with 70% in the poorest parts in 2014-15.
The report said that dental charges had risen steadily since 2010, with costs rising by over 6% in the past two years, over and above inflation, while the amount of money spent on NHS dentistry had been reduced by up to 15% since 2010-11. It called for dentists to be more integrated in wider healthcare action, arguing that they were “perfectly placed” to help tackle problems linked to poor oral health such as obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking.
It also argued that the new NHS dental contract, currently under review, should include dentistry in its plans to tackle poor overall health because focusing on the wider determinants of poor dental health could help tackle these inequalities.
Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chairman of general dental practice at the British Dental Association, criticised the government for supporting a contract that set limits on patient numbers and left the most disadvantaged people without access. He said: “These divides between north and south, rich and poor, expose the myth of universal access to NHS dentistry. We have a discredited system that funds dental care for barely half the population and the patients that lose out are all too often the ones that need us most.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Improving oral health, particularly in children, is a key priority for this government, and we want everyone to be able to access an NHS dentist wherever they are. NHS England’s Starting Well programme is working in 13 areas across the country, specifically targeting children who are not visiting a dentist, to prevent poor oral health.”