25 Aug

New report suggests oral health inequalities are getting worse

A new report compiled by Public Health England and researchers from University College London suggests that oral health inequalities are getting worse.

The report indicates that there are significant gaps in access to oral care and standards of oral health in the UK, with children, people with disabilities, homeless people and those from ethnic minorities worst affected. 

UCL researchers revealed a broad spectrum of inequalities, which have deepened in the last decade. One of the most significant findings was the difference in appointment attendance rates. The study revealed that 39% of children from lower social class backgrounds only see a dentist if they have symptoms, compared to 25% of children from more affluent families. 

Standards of oral health was another key indicator of inequalities. The report highlighted deteriorating dental health among vulnerable groups and those with protected characteristics, including the homeless, people with disabilities, ethnic minority patients, prisoners and travellers. 

Professor Richard Watt, from UCL Epidemiology & Public Health, explained that the study underlined the need to act urgently to close gaps and reduce inequalities in dental health as quickly as possible. Gaps have widened in the last ten years and people are slipping through the net, with dental issues becoming increasingly commonplace. 

Prof Watt called for the NHS and local and national governments to work together to promote oral health and prioritise dental care, particularly for those in greatest need. 

As patients across the UK report difficulties seeing a dentist due to backlogs caused by the pandemic, it is likely that the situation will get worse before it improves.

Many patients who are trying to access local dental services are currently being advised to go private, join waiting lists or travel outside of their home town or city to get an appointment and it could take several months for practices to catch up, as Covid-19 safety restrictions remain in place.