Government plans for dental public health are targeted in the right direction, but do not go far enough, the British Dental Association (BDA) warns.
While supporting both the broad approach of the plans and some specific proposals in the Healthy Lives, Healthy People white papers, the BDA would like to see a more ambitious approach to dental public health.
It is also concerned that a shortage of consultants in dental public health may affect the availability of appropriate expertise.
The creation of a target for improving the oral health of five year olds, which reflects the government’s stated intention to reduce the level of dental decay in children, is a very positive step, the BDA believes.
The BDA’s own work on oral health inequalities has highlighted the chasm that exists between those children with the best and worst oral health and called for action to tackle this problem.
With a generation of British adults with heavily restored dentitions and complex needs now entering later life, the BDA believes that a target for improving the oral health of older patients should also be set.
The targeting of a reduction in the consumption of specific food products is also supported by the BDA, although it is disappointed that the white papers do not focus on a reduction in sugar consumption in the same way they approach salt intake.
A stronger approach to reducing sugar intake would be appropriate, both specifically for oral health and in tackling the wider public health issue of obesity, the BDA believes.
An issue with the size of the dental public health workforce is also raised by the responses, which warn that more consultants in dental public health are needed.
The BDA believes the expertise of these individuals must be fully integrated into wider public health structures and used in the formulation of the proposed Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and Health and Wellbeing Strategies.
A major concern for the BDA is the government’s proposal for a health premium, a proposal it believes would see money pour into areas that are able to demonstrate improvements, rather than those that really need funding to meet the challenge of changing behaviour.
Furthermore, the BDA’s response challenges government to ring fence a dental element of the public health budget in order to protect spending on this vital area.
Dr Susie Sanderson, chair of the BDA’s executive board, said: ‘We are pleased to see the emphasis on tackling inequalities in the government’s public health white papers. Despite improvements over the last 30 or 40 years, we are still contending with an unacceptable and persistent oral health gap.
‘We are pleased to see the prominence being given to preventing oral health inequalities by targeting an improvement in children’s dental health. We would like to see a similar target for adult patients that recognises the challenges they present.
‘But there are also gaps in the proposals where we think the government should be going further. We’d like to see a more ambitious vision for dental public health that places this important function at the heart of wider public health and that seeks to guarantee the availability of the staff and financial resources that are needed to improve oral health.’