26 January 2017

Leading health charity, the Oral Health Foundation, is calling on local authorities to improve their oral health services and the signposting of available dental services to local communities, following the publication of new NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidance on oral health promotion in the community.

The new guidance outlines how local authorities can identify the oral health needs of people in local communities and also put in place steps they can take to address oral health inequalities in those communities.

As a result, the charity is calling on local authorities, working in collaboration with the NHS and dental profession, to do more to identify the needs of their communities and offer them advice and guidance towards dental services which many people are currently missing out on.

Dentist, Dr Ben Atkins, who is a Trustee of the Oral Health Foundation said: "We have to let people who are in need of help know that help is available for them.

"One of the first steps towards this is for local authorities to ensure they understand the needs of their communities when it comes to oral health and put in place the necessary interventions to address any problems.

"Some local authorities already run excellent and effective oral health services, work done in areas such as Tower Hamlets and the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham should be held up as a benchmark of what authorities can achieve if they put more focus on oral health.

"But, there are still some regions in the UK where oral health promotion is not treated with the priority that it deserves and as a result many people feel disillusioned with the help they can get. "But this NICE guidance includes some very common sense information for local authorities which can help change this. Including carrying out oral health needs assessments in their communities to identify groups at high risk of poor oral health as part of joint strategic needs assessments.

"Half of all adults are failing to visit the dentist each year, and the figures are even lower for children, this is something that we have to change through positive action. Without this we are seriously concerned that oral health inequalities will continue to grow across the country."

As well as carrying out oral health assessments of communities, the NICE guidance also advises local authorities to ensure that health and social care services include oral health in care plans of people who are receiving health or social care support and are at high risk of poor oral health. 

They also recommend that local authorities provide oral health improvement programmes in early years services and schools in areas where children and young people are at high risk of poor oral health.

Dr Atkins continued: "These are two of the most 'at risk' groups which we are currently seeing, by addressing these areas local authorities can really make a statement about how serious they are taking oral health in their communities.

"In targeting early years' services and schools they are also helping to improve the future of oral health for the public.

"Learning good oral health behaviour at a young age is proven to reduce the risk of oral health problems in later life. This activity should include educating children about their diets effect on their oral health as well as clear advice on tooth brushing and any dental treatments which are available to children to reduce their risk of tooth decay.

"As part of this, one area which they should address is to ensure they healthy food and drink options are displayed prominently in local authority and NHS venues, including early years services and schools."

To read the full NICE guidance please visit: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs139/resources/oral-health-promotion-in-the-community-75545427440581