Dentists mind the gap in oral health

Dentists have warned of an ‘unacceptable and growing chasm’ between those with good and poor dental health.

The British Dental Association’s (BDA’s) Oral Health Inequalities Policy – published today – highlights the differences in social groups and calls for a more preventive approach to dentistry.

The differences are particularly marked among children, it says – in the poorest areas, 60% of five year-olds and 70% of eight year-olds have obvious signs of decay in their milk teeth.

This compares with 40% of five year olds and 55% of eight year olds in more affluent areas.

Older people, prisoners and those with disabilities are also at risk from poor oral health and need more attention and treatment, the BDA report found.

It also highlights the close association between low socio-economic status and poor oral health, calling for more focus on preventive care, and suggests a more integrated approach to oral health from health and social care providers and highlights differences in dental health between the best and worst health trusts.

Alcohol and tobacco are also key factors in oral health inequalities, the BDA added, and dentists should be more involved in helping patients to quit.

It also called for targeted fluoridation to reduce the risk of tooth decay.

Professor Damien Walmsley, scientific adviser to the BDA, said: ‘There has been a significant improvement in the nation’s overall oral health over the last 30 years but, despite that, we still see a huge disparity that is all-too-often related to social deprivation. It is completely unacceptable that in Britain, in 2009, such a wide gap should exist.

 ‘Much good work to address this problem has begun, and this report commends a number of schemes such as Brushing for Life and Sure Start that are starting to make a difference. However, a great deal of work remains to be done and it is vital dentists are supported in doing it.’

Chief dental officer Barry Cockcroft added his support, saying: ‘We welcome the report. We agree with the British Dental Association that it is vital to do everything possible to reduce oral health inequalities.

‘As the BDA says, oral health is improving. Our children have among the lowest rates of tooth decay anywhere in the world. Last week, published data showed a significant increase in the number of five-year-old children completely free of decay, but a smaller percentage suffer significant disease, and this is entirely preventable.

‘The Department, working with the NHS, has published guidance on tackling these inequalities
in the prison population, in those with disabilities, on smoking cessation, and has expanded the Brushing for Life scheme through the Sure Start programme.

‘We have already published the world’s first evidence-based guide to prevention, and it has been sent to every single dentist in practice in England. We support preventive dentistry.

He adds: ‘We agree with the BDA that targeted water fluoridation schemes are an effective prevention strategy in reducing oral health inequalities as they reach everyone who drinks the water, require no change in lifestyle, and have the greatest benefit for those most socially deprived or disadvantaged.’

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