Increasing costs are the main reason why people delay or avoid going to the dentist, according to the Oral Health Foundation, which found that 36% of Britons are sacrificing dental visits to keep their bank balance in check. This figure has more than doubled in the last two years, as in 2017, money worries accounted for as little as 17% of the reasons for non-attendance.
Dr. Nigel Carter, OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, is urging the government to review its decision earlier this year to increase National Health Service (NHS) charges by 5%.
“The cost of visiting an NHS dentist is increasing far beyond that of inflation and pushing many of the population to breaking point. The decision to yet again raise the cost of checkups will hit the poorest areas of society even harder and force even more people to avoid dental visits,” said Carter.
“A significant U-turn needs to take place to make NHS-provided dentistry more affordable. More and more members of the public are calling our Dental Helpline for advice on how to tackle the increasing costs and lack of accessibility to the most basic of dental services. Things have to change, and it should begin with the reviewing of dental charges,” said Carter.
The Oral Health Foundation also found that younger adults are more likely to financially struggle with their oral health, as 59% of those aged 18 to 24 freely admit to their financial inability to look after their mouth, teeth, and gums as they are hit with rising university costs, rent and housing fees, and growing insurance prices.
“The rising costs of NHS dentistry are unsustainable,” said Carter, noting that increasing NHS chargers could discourage young adults from maintaining good oral health.
“Young people, families on lower incomes, and the elderly are all at risk of being alienated. The government must be working to encourage people towards NHS dentistry, not driving them away,” Carter said.
“The real health risk is missing diseases and conditions at an early age. Gum disease, tooth decay, and mouth cancer can all be treated and managed if caught quickly. The consequences of late diagnosis can be life-threatening,” said Carter.
Further, the study found that 11% have no designated dentist, while 16% only go to the dentist when they believe they have a problem. And cost isn’t the only reason for avoiding the dentist, with anxiety (22%), the fear of getting bad news (18%), and work commitments (8%) keeping people away as well.
Carter also expressed concern at the government’s unwillingness to commit to a sustained level of NHS dentistry funding and warned of further problems if it isn’t addressed swiftly.
“What makes this situation even more appalling is that while NHS charges for the public are increasing, investment is decreasing. NHS dentistry is dangerously underfunded and neglected by health ministers. It’s overstretched and underequipped to effectively care for the nation’s needs,” said Carter.
The Oral Health Foundation notes that net government expenditures on dental services in England have dropped by £550 million in real terms since 2010. Over the same period, the cost of NHS dentistry has increased by more than 30%.