New findings in a dental survey show that access to NHS dentistry has improved at the expense of quality.
More than half (54%) of the UK population has experienced change in dental services in the past four years, with reduction in quality of treatment and lower levels of NHS cover cited as the main reasons.
The Simplyhealth study of 10,000 UK respondents shows that although fewer people are now struggling to find an NHS dentist, a drop of 10% (from 39% to 29%), 18% say the NHS doesn’t cover as much as it used to and 17% feel they don’t receive the same level of treatment.
In addition 20% say they’re not being asked to see their dentist as regularly. Yet the Government says it wants to focus on improving quality and achieving good dental health with its new dental contract that’s currently being piloted across the UK.
This research also shows that, although people are finding it easier to find an NHS dentist – who generally remain cheaper than private dentists – cost is still the major factor that’s preventing many from attending their appointments.
Some 40% say they’ve put off going to the dentist because they can’t afford it.
The perceived drop in quality of NHS dentistry has led to more people believing that private dentistry offers a better service, up from 30% to 37%.
This is put down to flexibility of appointments, improved treatment, and a belief that private dentists pay more attention to their concerns.
Practising dentist and Simplyhealth’s dental advisor, Michael Thomas, says: ‘The perceived drop in the quality of treatment that patients receive is really unfortunate as the NHS is doing such a good job of increasing the number of people its dentists see. However, we are advised that the issue is not being ignored and is included within the government’s ongoing reform plans.’
Simplyhealth’s annual dental survey 2011 also uncovers a lack of understanding about how much support and information dentists can provide.
Only 34% believe a dentist would be able to identify oral cancer and only 55% would think about speaking to their dentist for the removal of wisdom teeth.
When it comes to children’s dental health, almost half of parents in the UK are taking their children for their first dental visit too late.
According to NHS Choices, children should be taken to the dentist as soon as their first teeth appear. Just under one third of children were under ten when they had their first filling, and 11% were under five.
As a result, 31% of children have had to make at least one emergency visit to the dentist in the past five years.
Michael Thomas says: It’s important that more is done to educate people about the consequences of poor oral health, as research suggests that poor oral health is associated with a greater risk of a stroke and heart disease. Dentists can provide a wealth of information and support for all the family, but patients need to know how to get the most from their appointments.
James Glover, from Simplyhealth, says: ‘Individuals and families are now able to see a dentist much more easily, which is great. However, it’s worrying that cost is forcing so many people to delay seeing their dentists, especially as NHS dental charges increased at the beginning of April.
‘Our Simply Dental Plan is designed to help manage the costs of routine visits to the dentist, and also provides insurance for the emergency treatments. We hope that having a plan like this in place will help encourage individuals to visit their dentist on a regular basis, without having to worry about the cost.’