Inequality in oral health

February 26th, 2018

Last Autumn the Nuffield Trust released a report which brought together a range of statistical data and information about the state of the nation’s oral health. They considered different geographical areas of England, different age groups, and different socio-economic groups. Their results were alarming. Across the UK there appears to be a huge variance in the number of visits made for dental check-ups, the number of fillings required, and the number of tooth extractions that take place. Today we bring you a selection of the key findings form the report.

An overall, generalised finding of the report was that living in the south or east of England is likely to be an indicator of better oral health, than living in the north. However, London is the exception to this.

For children there appeared to be some good news: a 20% decrease in the number of five-year-olds experiencing tooth decay was found between the years of 2008 and 2015. However, there was a worrying variance across the country. Depending on where the children lived, the number of five-year olds with fillings, or decaying or missing teeth varied from 14-57% across local authorities. A child living in Yorkshire and in The Humber is said to be five times more likely to require a tooth extraction in hospital, than a child living in the east. Children who met the criteria for free school meals, which is said to be an indicator of a low income, were found to be less likely to attend the dentist for a routine check-up, than those who did not meet the criteria.

The picture for adults is similar. An adult living in the north-east of England is said to be four times more likely, than someone living in the home counties, to have no natural teeth. Over 14% of hospital admissions for dental work were found in the areas of England described as being most deprived, with just shy of 7% coming from the wealthiest areas. The report suggests that factors such as smoking and high consumption of sugar, which are both linked to poor oral health, are more common in areas of deprivation.

Access to NHS dental services may be having an impact on the statistics. Private dental services are much less affordable to those on a local income. Therefore, in areas where there is no NHS service available, it is perhaps more likely that adults will not attend for their regular appointments or seek advice at the early signs of problems. In September 2017 the BBC carried out a survey which found that half of the 2,500 dental practices on the NHS Choices website were not in a position of accept new adult patients, and 40% were not able to accept new child patients.

According to the report, it is important that work is carried out to ensure that, as a country, we educate people on how to best look after their teeth, and to work towards greater access to treatment for all.

Please see the BBC website for more information:

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