Analysis of health data conducted by the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme has found significant oral health disparities across the country. To tackle the problem and avoid worsening inequalities, the nation needs a plan to level up oral health, improve access to dental care and increase education around preventative methods.
Living through the pandemic has taught us the importance of looking after the nation’s health. The Government’s ambition to ‘level up’ our health is both timely and critical and will require a coordinated approach across the health system. Promoting good oral health is a key part of this – poor oral health outcomes often indicate poor overall health outcomes for individuals.
Disruption caused by the pandemic has taken a toll on our oral health – with existing inequalities exacerbated. Despite the incredible efforts of the dental industry to ensure patients can access care, they continue to face huge backlogs. Over 35 million NHS dental appointments have been lost due to the pandemic and 80% of patients found it difficult to access timely dental care.
Analysis of Public Health England data conducted by the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme (WOHP) has found significant oral health disparities across the country. Using an indicator of hospital tooth extractions as a percentage of the population of 0–19-year-olds, the research found considerable variation across Local Authorities. At the point people require hospital extractions, they are likely to have progressed to very late stages of poor oral health.
The research found that the England-wide number of tooth extractions as a percentage of the population of 0-19-year-olds is 0.4%. Concerningly, some regions have significantly higher levels of extractions – Yorkshire and Humber have 75% higher levels of extractions and the North West and North East both experience 50% higher levels than the national average. There is also variation in outcomes within regions, with some Local Authorities performing significantly worse than others within regions – the South West in particular experiences high levels of variation.
Given the pressure on dental practices, preventative measures have never been more important. Brushing your teeth twice a day is crucial, as is using additional oral health tools like flossing. There are also accessible interventions like chewing sugarfree gum, which can play an important role in helping to prevent cavities and protect your teeth. A 2019 systematic review by King’s College London demonstrated that chewing sugarfree gum reduced cavities by 28%.
To tackle the backlog and prevent worsening inequalities, the nation will need a plan for levelling up the oral health of regions with poor outcomes. This could include improving access to dental care and increased education around preventative oral methods. Preventative measures will play a crucial role in the coming years to support the dental industry in tackling the backlog. Education around prevention will be critical to levelling up the nation’s oral health, and WOHP stands ready to support these efforts.
Conservative MP for Plymouth Moor View
The pandemic has opened our eyes to the link between inequality and health outcomes – with socio-economic inequalities clearly linked to poorer outcomes. Oral health is no exception, with inequalities being exacerbated by the pandemic.