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Dental specialist workforce and distribution in the United Kingdom: a specialist map

Abstract

Objectives To illustrate, identify and assess a contemporary model of the geographic distribution of specialist dentists in relation to population age groups and rurality.

Methods All UK dental specialists registered with the General Dental Council were extracted and paired with publicly available locations of work. Geographic information system tools were used to map specialist locations against population and rural-urban classifications of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The latest 2019 population estimates and health board areas were superimposed to create a specialist map. All other data were collected at the smallest geographic statistical areas and corresponding population data from the latest census.

Results A total of 4,439 specialist titles were held by 3,041 individuals, linked to 3,459 unique locations of work. Specialist locations were mapped against 135 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) of England, seven Local Health Boards of Wales, 14 Health Boards of Scotland and five Health and Social Care Trusts of Northern Ireland. NHS Central London CCG had the highest specialist dentists per 100,000 people at 118.9; paediatric dentists per 20,000 children at 6.4; orthodontic dentists per 20,000 schoolchildren at 23.2; oral surgery dentists at 4.8 per 20,000 adults; and prosthodontic dentists at 7.2 per 20,000 adults. Orthodontics and oral surgery had the highest specialist-to-population ratios at 1:45,545 and 1:77,510, compared to oral and maxillofacial radiology and oral microbiology with the lowest ratios of 1:2,178,316 and 1:9,024,452, respectively. In England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, there were 79.5% (n = 42,140,039), 55.6% (n = 1,703,248), 46.9% (n = 2,481,996) and 42.9% (n = 776,295) of the respective populations that lived within 2.5 km of a specialist location. There were significant disparities in rural proximity to specialist locations across all nations. In Scotland, 40.8% of the rural population lived outside 10 km of a specialist location.

Conclusions Stark inequalities exist in the geographic distribution of UK specialist dentists and high disparities were found in accessing a specialist, especially for vulnerable populations.

Key points

  • Details the distribution of dental specialist locations in relation to population demographics.

  • Describes how disparities in accessing specialist care have important implications in developing policy and services, especially for vulnerable populations.

  • Examines the difference in accessibility to specialist dental care between the four devolved nations of the UK.

  • Illustrates how geographic information systems and mapping techniques can be powerful tools for strategic health design in targeting and monitoring intervention areas.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship.

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Correspondence to Olivia Jo.

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Jo, O., Kruger, E. & Tennant, M. Dental specialist workforce and distribution in the United Kingdom: a specialist map. Br Dent J (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-021-3167-9

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