When I joined the Department of Health in 2002, I had no idea of the range, complexity and sheer diversity, of the issues chief professional officers have to deal with. In the last year alone, we have worked on issues in Europe affecting dental amalgam, the mutual recognition of professional qualifications and tooth whitening, on top of lots of significant issues at home.
We are carrying out an intensive period of piloting to inform the development of a new dental contract based on registration, capitation and quality, and have also had to make sure that dentistry and oral health are appropriately placed within the new structures which make up the reformed Health and Care system.
These will have a crucial role to play in the future of our profession, namely, NHS England, Health Education England, Public Health England and the Department of Health.
At the same time, as well as playing a part in the restructuring, I have to make sure we focus on the current coalition government priorities for dentistry to continue to improve access to services and to improve oral health.
Access to services has been improving steadily with more than 1.25 million more people accessing dental services in the two-year period ending March 2013 than in May 2010.
The latest data was published on 14 May but, as the situation has improved, this data no longer seems to grab the headlines like it did.
Improving access to services is an ongoing coalition commitment and we know we still have more to do, but I think it is important to recognise the progress we have made.
The latest figures suggest that with around 30 million people seeing a dentist regularly as patients of the NHS and around 5.5 million (data from GP Patients Survey) accessing their care outside the NHS system, we probably have more people seeing a dentist on a regular basis than ever before and that has got to be a good thing.
The other principal coalition commitment is to improve oral health with a particular focus on children and, although in England we have some of the lowest rates of dental decay in the world, the inequalities that exist – given that they are preventable – are unacceptable.
The factors that determine levels of dental disease are not related to dental services, but dental professionals can play a part in disseminating the right preventive messages to that minority of the population who still suffer disease.
Following the publication of Delivering Better Oral Health in 2007, all the major toothpaste manufacturers increased the concentration of fluoride in toothpaste aimed at the very young, to 1000 parts per million. This is both safe and effective and should further reduce levels of tooth decay in our children, but it won’t have an effect if the children concerned don’t brush their teeth and continue to live on a diet which includes frequent consumption of sugars.
We have come a long way since the dark days of overall high levels of tooth decay of the 1950s and 1960s and it is my job to see that we build on the significant improvement we have seen in the last 20-30 years.
Barry Cockcroft qualified from Birmingham Dental School in 1973. He worked for 27 years in mainly NHS general dental practice before joining the Department of Health as deputy chief dental officer (England) in November 2002. He was appointed chief dental officer (England) in July 2006. Prior to his appointment as CDO, he had served on the Warwickshire Local Dental Committee, including terms as chairman and secretary, been chairman of the West Midlands Association of LDCs and was elected to the General Dental Services Committee of the BDA in 1990. Following the recent restructuring of the health and social care system, he provides clinical and professional advice and leadership to NHS England, the Department of Health and Health Education England.