The British Dental Association (BDA) is calling for better oral health care for patients in hospitals.
A survey, published in the BDJ, shows junior doctors aren’t confident diagnosing oral health conditions.
Half of the doctors surveyed don’t routinely assess the mouth as part of an oral health assessment.
‘Dental care for inpatients, particularly the elderly, must be recognised better in our hospitals,’ Peter Dyer, BDA chair of hospital dentists, said.
‘Failure to engage on oral health can jeopardise the recovery of older patients.
‘Pre-existing problems go untreated, and conditions – including cancers – may not be spotted.
‘The result heaps more pressure on our NHS.’
Almost two-thirds (61%) of doctors weren’t able to spot signs of oral cancer in patients, the survey shows.
The study asked 146 junior doctors about their knowledge of handling oral health conditions.
Of those surveyed, 97% of doctors expressed an interest in receiving further training in oral health.
‘Yes, doctors need appropriate training,’ Mr Dyer continues.
‘But health bosses must also ensure appropriate dental services are actually available for inpatients.
‘Oral and dental diagnosis with referral to the appropriate department for treatment can be key if we want to reduce unnecessary care and prolonged stays in hospital.’
Use of non-dental services
Children’s use of non-dental services to treat oral pain costs the NHS £2.3m every year.
Last year, research by the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), found thousands of children with oral pain are going to pharmacies, A&E and other non-dental services.
The study found that 65% of pharmacy visits by parents were to get pain medications to treat children’s oral pain.
‘The fact that only 30% of children with oral pain had seen a dentist before going to a pharmacy highlights a concerning underuse of dental services,’ lead researcher, Dr Vanessa Muirhead from QMUL, said.
‘Children with oral pain need to see a dentist for a definitive diagnosis and to treat any tooth decay.
‘Not treating a decayed tooth can result in more pain, abscesses and possible damage to children’s permanent teeth.
‘These children had not only failed to see a dentist before their pharmacy visit, they had seen GPs and a range of other health professionals outside dentistry.
‘This inappropriate and overuse of multiple health services including A&E is costing the NHS a substantial amount of money at a time when reducing waste is a government priority.’