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The truth behind the headlines: persistent oral health inequalities in Scotland

Blog Author Robert Donald

Blog Date 06/11/2019

Photo credit: Getty Images

It was good to read that the number of 11-year-old children in Scotland with no obvious signs of tooth decay has hit a record high, according to the latest dental health statistics

But the positive headlines do not tell the whole story, which is that we have a deep-seated problem of oral health inequality in Scotland - and this is an issue on which we won’t be silent. 

Those from Scotland’s poorest areas are still showing more decay experience than those in the least deprived areas, and it’s a stark difference: only seven out of 10 children from the most deprived areas (69.5%) show no signs of decay compared to nearly nine out of 10 (88.5%) from the most affluent.

Tooth decay is still the number one reason for child hospital admissions, and young people are waiting up to 6 months for treatment. This is a shocking fact in a country that should be able to provide the highest levels of dental care for its population. 

The new National Dental Inspection Programme data also shows that there is not enough adequate dental treatment for 11-year-old children, as the stats show only 50% of the obvious tooth decay has been treated. This figure is also getting worse, down from 55% in the 2015 survey. 

The results also show that the relative index of inequality (RII) for dental health in this age group has actually become worse over the last 10 years – this is a very sad indictment of the state of our public health and it is not something our country can be proud of. 

We very much welcome the overall improvement of children’s dental health and dentists have worked hard to campaign to ensure the Childsmile programme is expanded and its success is built upon. 

As we have said previously, it’s our Ministers who need to ensure that not only is the overall improvement sustained, but that they also make renewed efforts to tackle inequalities in the oral health of our children. 

Progress needs to be made faster, and that means a real commitment to tackling the causes of inequalities amongst our populations and providing adequate investment to ensure all those who need treatment can access it. 

It was good to see Alison Johnstone, the Green MSP for Lothian highlighting the issues and referring to our evidence showing the problems with registration and attendance, the lack of uptake amongst the most deprived, and the negative impact of introducing two-year waits between dental appointments as suggested by the Oral Health Improvement Plan, which we have fought against. 

Alison Johnstone also raised the recruitment issues facing dentistry in Scotland, as many of our colleagues are retiring or leaving NHS work, due to the stress and low levels of morale. 

We will continue to work to raise these issues and call on the Scottish Government to add evidence-based approaches to its efforts to tackle these inequalities.

Robert Donald, Chair, BDA Scottish Council

BDA Scotland

BDA Scotland supports, represents and promotes, the interests of all dentists working in Scotland. Working with elected committee members, we negotiate on behalf of the profession on terms and conditions, and pay and contracts. Join us