Report shows poor dental health in the UK

Search Dental Tribune

Oral health inequalities remain a major public health concern in the UK

A recent report shows significant disparities in dental health in England at every stage of life and across various clinical markers, including dental caries. (Image: Harbucks/Shutterstock)

Wed. 3 April 2024


LONDON, UK: Despite being largely preventable, poor dental health continues to be a major public health issue in England. This is evident in a recent report published by the UK government and co-written by researchers from University College London (UCL). The report draws on epidemiological data, National Health Service (NHS) data and academic literature and offers evidence from the last two decades on oral health inequalities and disparities in access to dental care services, revealing geographical and socio-economic inequalities as well as those experienced by people with disabilities, ethnic minority groups and homeless people.

The report, issued by Public Health England, emphasises the ongoing gap in dental health between the most and the least disadvantaged groups, noting that in certain areas of oral health, this disparity has grown over time. In particular, the data shows that inequalities in dental caries between the most and the least deprived 5-year-olds have increased between 2008 and 2019 in England.

The researchers also found clear evidence of social inequalities for tooth loss and oral cancer as well as social disparities in dental care attendance. For example, they found that 39% of 5-year-olds from families with routine or manual occupations visited the dentist after developing symptoms, compared with 25% of 5-year-olds from families with managerial or professional occupations, who were also more likely to attend routine appointments. The report also found that vulnerable groups, including homeless people, prisoners and travellers (itinerant ethnic communities in the UK), have considerably poorer oral health and face substantial difficulties accessing dental care.

The report identified that high costs, limited service availability and services not being tailored to local needs are major obstacles to using dental services in the country. To overcome these barriers, the researchers have suggested providing appropriate training to both service users and care providers and developing policies that ensure that dental services meet the needs of vulnerable people.

“Taking action to reduce health inequalities, including oral health, is a matter of urgency.”—Prof. Richard Watt, UCL

To enhance dental health and narrow the dental health gap, Public Health England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence have suggested implementing various oral health interventions, including supervised toothbrushing programmes for children in various settings, water fluoridation for the entire population, targeted provision of toothbrushes and toothpaste by health visitors or via post, the integration of oral healthcare into targeted home visits by health and social care workers, and healthy food and drink policies.

Dr Anja Heilmann, an associate professor in epidemiology and public health at UCL, said in a press release: “This important report charts the extent of oral health inequalities in the UK. It shows that there is abundant evidence for stark inequalities in relation to material and social disadvantage. Inequalities also affect those with protected characteristics, such as minority ethnic groups and people living with disabilities. The report highlights the urgent need for more and better-quality data on the oral health of vulnerable groups such as people experiencing homelessness.”

Dr Georgios Tsakos, professor of dental public health at UCL, added: “Oral health matters for overall health and well-being, for identity, and self-esteem.” He continued: “This Public Health England report is a valuable research resource, but more importantly should be a starting point for commissioning services and public health policies to address these wide-ranging inequalities in oral health that are ultimately avoidable and unfair.”

Prof. Richard Watt, chair of dental public health at UCL, concluded: “Taking action to reduce health inequalities, including oral health, is a matter of urgency, especially in light of the evidence on widening health inequalities in the last ten years. Joined-up action across the NHS, local government and national policy is needed to promote oral health equity.”

More information about the report can be found here.

To post a reply please login or register