The Oral Health Foundation (OHF) said that it has found further evidence of a National Health Service (NHS) dental service in crisis. The oral health charity now is calling upon ministers to promptly address delayed dental appointments and provide the support that NHS dentistry needs to get back on track.
In a survey of more than 2,000 British adults, 45% reported delays in dental appointments and treatment in the last 12 months. This is more than any other health service, including general practice surgeries (30%), hospital services (16%), and mental health support (11%). Also, the OHF said, as many as 20 million dental appointments have been delayed or cancelled since March 2020.
Vital funding and support is needed for NHS dentistry to avoid the nation sleepwalking into an oral health, said Dr. Nigel Carter, OBE, chief executive of the OHF.
“Dentistry has been severely underfunded for many years, and services have suffered greatly during the pandemic. To address the backlog caused by COVID-19 restrictions, and to ensure dentistry does not fall behind other crucial health services, now is the time for government to provide more funding and invest in the nation’s oral health,” Carter said.
“Regular dental visits are key for maintaining good oral health. Dentists can spot oral health problems in the early stages and provide patients with advice and care that can save them from both invasive and expensive treatments later down the line,” he continued.
“Dentists also conduct potentially lifesaving mouth cancer checks as part of every routine appointment. Many people are unaware when it comes to mouth cancer symptoms and how to look for it and therefore the only mouth cancer check they’d get is when they have their regular appointment,” said Carter.
As a result of delays to dentistry over the past year, the OHF said, 12% of those surveyed said they have accessed remote dentistry services in the last 12 months. This includes telephone advice, video calls, and emails with their dental team.
Despite the ease of remote advice services, the OHF continued, 74% said they prefer physical appointments with their dental team. This was much higher than general health, where 59% said they would prefer physical appointments.
Despite a reduction in services over the past year, the OHF said, it is keen to get more people back into the dental chair. Carter emphasized that while dental practices have suffered several challenges during the pandemic, they have adapted well and are ready to see more patients.
“Dental professionals have done an excellent job adapting during the pandemic in spite of very difficult challenges. The good news is that many dentists, dental hygienists, and therapists are now able to see far more patients than they were last summer, and the range of treatments available should be back to normal,” Carter said.
“If you have not seen a dentist since the beginning of the pandemic, I would urge you to give them a call and inquire about an appointment. Regular dental visits are crucial for maintaining a good standard of oral health and can identify problems long before they become more serious,” Carter said.
The OHF commissioned the research as part of National Smile Month, a charity campaign championing the benefits of good oral health and a healthy smile. It is supported by Invisalign, Listerine, Oral-B, Corsodyl, Sensodyne, TePe, Philips, and the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme.
Throughout National Smile Month, the OHF and its partners are looking to support the public in taking steps to improve their oral health. While dental visits remain essential for a healthy mouth, the OHF said, the cornerstone to good oral health remains at home.
“A healthy smile can be achieved at home with a simple and easy daily routine,” Carter said.
“The most important action you can take is to brush your teeth for two minutes, last thing at night and one other time during the day, with a fluoride toothpaste. It also means cleaning between your teeth every day with interdental brushes or floss and also cutting down how much and how often you have sugary foods and drinks,” he said.
“Dental disease is largely preventable,” Carter said. “Following these steps will set you up on the path for a lifetime of good oral health.”