Pediatric dental care remains a challenge in England, as the National Health Service (NHS) reports that 41.8% of eligible children there have not had a free dental checkup in the 12 months prior to June 2017. That’s a modest improvement of 0.2% more than 2016’s figures, though it still represents 4.9 million patients who are not benefitting from National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines recommending annual visits.
The British Dental Association (BDA) reports that one in 4 parents is unaware that routine checkups are free for children younger than 18 years of age. Tooth decay is now the leading cause of hospital admissions for children, as approximately 600,000 patients with dental problems visit doctors with general practices and 130,000 go to the emergency room each year, according to the BDA.
“The fact that nearly 5 million children are missing out on free dental care is nothing short of a national disgrace, but it is the logical result of policies from successive governments,” said Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chair of general dental practice at the BDA. “Tooth decay, a wholly preventable disease, remains the leading cause of hospital admissions for children. But instead of public information campaigns, Westminster has offered radio silence.”
Meanwhile, 48.6% of adults in England have not seen an NHS dentist in the last 2 years. That 21 million total represents a slight rise above 2016’s 48.2% tally. Nearly one in 5 adult patients have delayed treatment due to costs, the BDA notes. The BDA says that these numbers are the result of the government’s failure to deliver a coherent oral health strategy and effective public engagement focused on prevention like the programs now succeeding in Scotland and Wales.
“Government’s chief concerns remain keeping patient numbers down and charge revenue rolling in. Far from delivering savings, this approach is feeding a false economy and piling huge pressures across the NHS,” said Overgaard-Nielsen. “We see parents left in the dark and key public health messages going undelivered. The onus is now on ministers to stop just providing reasons to avoid regular checkups and to put prevention into practice.”