The UK is experiencing a dental health crisis in which people are finding it increasingly difficult to access subsidised dental care through the National Health Service (NHS). The British Dental Association has stated that more than 12 million adults in England have unmet dental needs. This lack of access to subsidised dental care has been brought into focus as long queues to access dental services have been reported in the UK media. GlobalData epidemiologists forecast that if access to dental services is not improved swiftly, cases of dental diseases will rise sharply, causing economic hardship and increasing health burdens.

The UK population has a very high unmet dental need affecting all age groups. According to UK government statistics, tooth decay was the most common reason for hospital admission in children ages 6 to 10 years in 2021–22. The UK Oral Health Foundation reported that children missed three days of school each year on average due to dental problems. Similarly, 31% of UK adults had dental caries that required treatment and 74% of adults have had teeth extracted for dental reasons during their life. The common theme in these statistics is the lack of early access to preventive dental care, which made the situation worse.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dental diseases are largely preventable. However, if left untreated, they pose a major health burden, and affect people throughout their lifetime, causing pain, discomfort and disfigurement. The WHO estimates that dental diseases affect nearly 3.5 billion people globally each year. Among dental diseases, untreated permanent tooth decay is the most common health condition and a major reason for tooth loss.

Income and health inequality impact dental health

Multiple preventable risk factors can cause dental diseases, and these factors are also common to other noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity. These factors include sugar, tobacco and alcohol consumption, as well as poor oral hygiene. Social determinants such as income and health inequality affect and worsen these health conditions.

GlobalData epidemiologists forecast that there will be 13 million diagnosed prevalent cases of obesity and 4.5 million diagnosed prevalent cases of type 2 diabetes in the UK by the end of 2024. As dental diseases share the same risk factors, the diagnosed prevalent cases of dental diseases will rise in tandem. The UK should improve access to NHS dental services by prioritising and increasing the funding in the short term. However, in the medium to long term, a public health approach is needed to improve oral health. People should be encouraged to have a healthy balanced diet and minimise sugar and alcohol intake and the use of tobacco. Regular brushing using fluoridated toothpaste should be encouraged, as it will reduce the risk of tooth decay. Additionally, dental health services should be re-oriented to provide preventative dental care to the population

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