Co-ordinated action needed to tackle oral health inequalities

15 June 2016

The newly-launched All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dentistry and Oral Health met yesterday (14 June) to discuss the issue of oral health inequalities and the impact of these on people's lives.

MPs and Lords attended, alongside representatives from across the sector, including NHS England, Public Health England, Health Education England, specialist dental groups and societies, the British Dental Industry Association and the BDA.

The event coincided with the release of a new survey by YouGov for the BDA, showing that poor oral health can affect people's career prospects. Seventy-seven per cent of respondents felt that decayed teeth or bad breath would hinder a candidate's chances of getting a job in public or client-facing roles.

Chaired by Sir Paul Beresford MP, a panel of speakers including Sara Hurley, Chief Dental Officer for England, Dr Colette Bridgman, Director of Public Health for Greater Manchester (and newly-appointed Chief Dental Officer for Wales), Professor Richard Watt chair of Dental Public Health at UCL and Baroness Glenys Thornton, Chief Executive of the Young Foundation, put forward their views on how to tackle the problem.

The panel agreed that dental disease is preventable and the problem has to be solved by coordinated action from public health bodies, central government and the dental sector. Sara Hurley said: "Every child should have a smile for life, irrespective of postcode."

Professor Watt made the point that 35% of 12 year-olds embarrassed to smile because of the state of their teeth and said that the EU-wide the cost of treating oral disease now ranks above Alzheimer's, and is on a par with heart disease.

Dr Bridgman talked about the successes of local programmes, such as Manchester Smiles but emphasised the need to implement a joined-up approach across the UK.

Baroness Thornton said she was keen to work with the BDA to help highlight the problem of inequalities and that she would consider commissioning her team to do more research on the sociological consequences of poor oral health.

Posing a question to the panel, BDA Chair Mick Armstrong made the point that the current dental contract does not incentivise prevention and asked for more money to be invested to ensure progress is made on breaking the link between decay and deprivation.

The APPG will continue to highlight this issue to key stakeholders and push for action.

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