Dental Tribune UK & Ireland

BDA: “Scotland’s huge oral health inequalities cannot be allowed to widen”

By Brendan Day, Dental Tribune International
March 17, 2021

EDINBURGH, UK: The havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic across the world has meant that patient attendance levels at dental practices have dropped quite substantially since March 2020. Although government-mandated lockdowns have played a role in this outcome, new data released by Public Health Scotland has indicated that access to NHS dentistry services remains a point of concern in the country.

The statistics, released by the government agency on 23 February, provide an overview of NHS dental registrations and participation rates in Scotland between September 2000 and December 2020. Though the impact of the pandemic is yet to be fully realised, the number of adults seen by an NHS dentist between September and November 2020 was roughly one-third of the 2018–2019 monthly average—a figure that fell to 28% of the 2018–2019 average in December 2020.

Furthermore, the data demonstrated that, whereas 67.1% of adults from the least deprived areas of Scotland had seen their dentist within the last two years, this figure dropped to 55.9% for adults from the most deprived areas. A similar division existed between children in the least and most deprived areas as well, with 85.7% and 73.5%, respectively, having visited their dentist within the last two years.

According to Dr Robert Donald, chair of the British Dental Association’s (BDA) Scottish Council, these statistics “underline the scale of the challenge ahead”.

“Millions have missed out on dentistry. Problems that could have been caught early, from decay to oral cancer, have been missed,” he noted in a press release. “Scotland’s huge oral health inequalities cannot be allowed to widen. Every party, heading into May’s election, now has a responsibility to set out how they will ensure families across Scotland can get the care they need,” he continued.

Concerning issues abound in Scottish dentistry

Inequalities regarding oral health outcomes have been a recurring problem in Scotland for some time. The National Dental Inspection Programme 2018 showed that 86% of those children in Scotland’s least deprived areas had no obvious signs of decayed, missing or filled primary teeth. For those from the country’s poorest places, this figure was 56%.

Meanwhile, freedom of information requests placed by the Scottish Liberal Democrats in 2019 revealed waiting times of more than 120 weeks for inpatient oral and maxillofacial treatment, a length far beyond the 12-week target for surgery that the Scottish government was then aiming for.

These problematic trends have been compounded by the recent announcement that, since many final year dental students in Scotland will not be able to graduate this year owing to a lack of clinical experience, dental schools will not be accepting new students in September 2021.

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