The British Dental Association (BDA) has warned that new data on hospital tooth extractions among 0- to 19-year-olds understate the level of demand, given huge backlogs and only partial recovery of elective services.1
While numbers remain well below pre-COVID levels for now, the data confirm that tooth decay remains the most common reason for hospital admissions in children aged between six and ten years - and that rates for children and young people living in the most deprived communities are nearly 3.5 times that of those living in the most affluent.
The BBC reported in August that 91% of dental practices in England were unable to take on new adult NHS patients, with 79% unable to take on new child patients.2 The BDA remains deeply concerned that ongoing and severe access problems, together with disruption to public health programmes and lockdown diets, will widen these deep oral health inequalities. Nearly 50 million NHS dental appointments have been lost in England since lockdown, with dentists now reporting typical patients presenting with higher levels of need.
The Health and Social Care Committee is set to begin receiving oral evidence next month on the crisis in NHS dentistry in England. The BDA has accused government of failing to deliver needed reform and investment. This week it was revealed that during this unprecedented access crisis over 10% of the service's already inadequate £3 billion budget is set to be handed back,3 as struggling practices are unable to hit government targets owing to widespread recruitment problems.
BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said: 'Tooth decay is still going unchallenged as the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children.
'Decay and deprivation are going hand in hand, and this inequality is set to widen.
'None of this is inevitable. This government needs to be willing to take off the gloves when it comes to fighting a wholly preventable disease.'
Office for Health Improvement & Disparities. Hospital tooth extractions in 0 to 19 year olds 2022. 23 February 2023. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/hospital-tooth-extractions-in-0-to-19-year-olds-2022/hospital-tooth-extractions-in-0-to-19-year-olds-2022 (accessed February 2023).
British Dental Association. NHS dentistry at a tipping point, as BBC reveal true extent of access crisis. 8 August 2022. Available at: https://bda.org/news-centre/press-releases/Pages/nhs-dentistry-at-a-tipping-point.aspx (accessed February 2023).
Anderson H. The national dentistry budget is set to be underspent by a record £400m this year, due to a shortage of dentists willing to take on NHS work, HSJ has learned. HSJ, 21 February 2023. Available at: https://www.hsj.co.uk/finance-and-efficiency/nhse-set-for-400m-dentistry-underspend-despite-access-crisis/7034260.article (accessed February 2023).
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Caries remains top reason for child hospital admissions. Br Dent J 234, 295 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-023-5627-x