EDINBURGH, Scotland: Fresh statistics from Public Health Scotland have revealed widening oral healthcare inequities in Scotland, and the British Dental Association (BDA) has called on Edinburgh to face up to and address the problem. Lifetime registration means that more than 95% of Scots are registered with a National Health Service (NHS) dentist, but the BDA says that the Scottish government needs to stop hiding behind this figure.
The report found that overall participation rates (contact with a dentist in the past 24 months) had fallen to 50.4% in September 2022, from 52.6% a year earlier and from 65.1% in 2020. Worryingly, the report showed that the gap in dental participation rates between those living in the richest and in the poorest areas had widened, a sign of growing oral healthcare inequalities in Scotland. Just over half (55.9%) of children living in the most deprived parts of the country had visited a dentist in the last two years, compared with 75.8% in the least deprived areas. For adults, it was 42.7% compared with 53.5%.
In September 2008, there was a three-percentage point difference between dental participation rates among children in the most and least deprived areas; this had increased to seven percentage points by 2010 and to a bitter 20 percentage points by September last year. For adults, the lacuna in equitable oral healthcare participation has also widened—from three percentage points in 2008 to six points in 2010 and to 11 points in September last year.
The BDA warned in a press release that lower levels of participation will lead to a higher dental disease burden and that oral healthcare inequalities are expected to continue widening as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, leading to worse health outcomes for patients. “Patients in Scotland’s poorest communities are paying the price for the crisis in dentistry,” Dr David McColl, chair of the BDA’s Scottish Dental Practice Committee, stated in the press release.
Dr McColl berated the Scottish government, saying that it must not try to hide behind healthy registration figures, which show that the vast majority of the population (95.4%) are registered with a Scottish NHS dental practice. “The reality is patient participation remains on the floor, and inequalities are set to widen,” Dr McColl stressed, adding: “Dentists are reconsidering their futures working in a broken system. NHS dentistry is on the critical list, and real reform won’t wait.”
The report only featured data on NHS patients and not on those registered with or treated by private dentists.