Health Care

Report highlights 'shocking' divide between dental health of rich and poor

The report is titled, "Root causes: quality and inequality in dental health".

The report was undertaken as part of the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation's QualityWatch programme looked at the public databases on dental health in terms of outcomes and activities.

Generally, middle-class households and those living in the South had much better teeth than working-class families or those in the North. The rich also have a better dental health compared to the poor.

The findings showed that 14% of people from deprived backgrounds had been hospitalised in need of dental work, against 7% of the better off.

However, access to NHS dentists may also play a role, given that those on a low income are unlikely to be able to afford private dentistry in areas where there is no NHS service available.

The think-tank found that dental health had on the whole improved over the past few decades.

"Despite tooth decay being nearly entirely preventable, it is the most common single reason why children aged five to nine require admission to hospital".

Despite the good numbers there are pockets and areas where the statistics do not look so good in terms of dental health.

Children in some areas of England are four times as likely to have rotten teeth than those elsewhere, according to a report.

And eight in ten five-year-olds in the richest regions have healthy teeth, compared with seven in ten in the poorest.

There were 845 hospital admissions per 100,000 population for tooth extraction in Yorkshire yet in East Anglia the figure was just 160 admissions per 100,000. It also said that 18% of parents with children eligible for free school meals found it hard to find an NHS dentist in 2013, compared with 11% of parents whose children were not.

In September, a BBC News analysis of 2,500 dental practices on the NHS Choices website found half were not accepting new adult NHS patients, while two-fifths were not accepting new child NHS patients. "As a nation, our dental health is improving", said Prof John Appleby, the Nuffield Trust's director of research. The authors write that the dentists and their teams are providing the care necessary but the NHS needs to take more initiatives to prevent poor dental health overall.

High sugar consumption and smoking both have a negative impact on oral health, and the report notes that both are often associated with deprivation.

It also argued that the new NHS dental contract, now under review, should include dentistry in its plans to tackle poor overall health because focusing on the wider determinants of poor dental health could help tackle these inequalities. "But unless more efforts are made to tackle the inequalities we identify and embed prevention of ill health across dentistry, the progress made over the past few decades in improving the nation's oral health could stall".

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