Dental health woes made worse by recession

The improvement in the oral health of adults in the England, Northern Ireland and Wales highlighted by the 2009 Adult Dental Survey disguises persistent inequalities between those with the best and worst oral health, the British Dental Association (BDA) claims.

Although the survey points to an encouraging overall improvement in adults’ oral health – with reductions in decay and gum disease and more teeth being retained – it also highlights the significant disparities between those with the best and worst oral health and provides a reminder of the association between social disadvantage and oral health problems.

The full release of the Adult Dental Health Survey 2009 also suggests that around one in four adults say that cost influences their choice of dental treatment.

The full set of statistics – released today – show that just over a quarter of adults (26%) said that the type of dental treatment they opted to have had been influenced by cost and almost one fifth (19%) said they had delayed treatment for the same reason.

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Other barriers to dental treatment included:
• Extreme dental anxiety – estimated to be experienced by 12% of dentate adults
• Past experience – 20% of adults were less than satisfied in one way or another with their last visit to the dentist.
• Cost, location, recommendations from family and friends and quality of care were the most frequently mentioned reasons for using NHS dental care with affordability being cited by 63%, and location by 23%.

Speaking on the full set of results, Susie Sanderson, chair of the BDA’s executive board, says: ‘The overall improvement in oral health illustrated by the Adult Dental Health Survey makes for positive reading.

‘However, the survey also makes clear that there is no room for complacency. It underlines the persistent oral health inequalities that we see in this country and the correlation between poor oral health and lower socio-economic status.

‘The results also highlight the evolving oral health challenges that must be confronted. They show that more adults are retaining more teeth further into their lives. Maintaining those teeth, particularly for those aged 45 and over who bear the legacy of higher levels of dental disease in earlier life, will be a particular challenge. The survey also reinforces the importance of preventive approaches to dental care. Pilots that will lead to a new dental contact in England and planning of our dental workforce must take account of these evolving challenges.’

The survey also suggests that significant numbers of patients are deferring dental treatment because of financial concerns.

Susie Sanderson continues: ‘These results also reinforce the findings of the BDA’s own research in highlighting the effect of the recession as a deterrent for some patients seeking dental care. While it’s understandable that patients’ financial anxieties are leading them to defer appointments and treatment, achieving short-term money savings at the expense of longer-term health problems really isn’t wise.’

The Adult Dental Health Survey 2009 summary report and thematic series provides information on the dental health of adults, exploring areas such as oral health and function, complexity of dental treatment and access and barriers to dental care. In addition, three country-specific reports are published alongside the full report for each of the participating countries.

The survey, which has taken place every decade since 1968, was commissioned by The NHS IC and carried out by a consortium managed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on behalf of the Department of Health in England, the Welsh Assembly Health Department and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) in Northern Ireland.

Other findings show:
• Just under three-fifths (58%) of adults said that they had tried to make an NHS dental appointment in the previous three years. Of these adults, 92% successfully received and attended an appointment
• 75% of adults said that they cleaned their teeth at least twice a day and a further 23% of adults said that they cleaned their teeth once a day. Only 2% of adults said that they cleaned their teeth less than once a day and 1 per cent said that they never cleaned their teeth
• The mean number of teeth amongst dentate adults was 25.7, with the majority of dentate adults (60%) having between 27 and 32 teeth. Dentate adults had an average of 17.9 sound and untreated teeth but this varied hugely with age
• In 2009, nearly one in five adults wore removable dentures of some description (partial or complete).

Tim Straughan, chief executive of The NHS Information Centre said: ‘These findings raise some interesting questions about the influence of treatment costs on the choices people make about their dental health. It also explores the accessibility of NHS dental services.

‘This latest report provides a more detailed picture of the dental health of the population, focussing on patterns and determinants of dental health, disease and service use which will be of particular interest to policy makers and regional health planners.’

Today’s report is available at: www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/dentalsurveyfullreport09

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