18 June 2024

The Oral Health Foundation has uncovered alarming reasons behind the growing reluctance of UK adults to visit the dentist. Our latest data, collected independently, reveals a stark truth: 41% of UK adults cite cost as the primary barrier to seeking dental care. This represents a worrying trend amidst the current cost-of-living crisis gripping the nation.

While much attention has been drawn to NHS dental access issues, our findings shed light on the real obstacles faced by patients.

A staggering 17% report difficulty finding a local NHS dentist, while 12% encounter challenges booking appointments. However, the escalating costs of dental treatment remain the foremost concern, with significant implications for public health.

Over the past decade, NHS dentistry charges have increased far beyond the rate of inflation, placing an unsustainable burden on patients. During this time, treatment charges have surged by around 50%.

The Oral Health Foundation believes the trajectory of rising patient costs is simply not tenable for those on lower incomes or residing in deprived areas, who rely on accessible and affordable dental services.

Dr Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, warns of an impending crisis.

Dr Carter says: “For decades, NHS dentistry has been perceived as a separate entity from other NHS services, with patients bearing the brunt of rising costs. This trajectory is unsustainable, especially for vulnerable populations who depend on fully accessible and affordable dental care.”

As the cost of living continues to skyrocket, dental care falls lower on the priority list for many individuals. However, the repercussions of neglecting oral health are profound.

Untreated dental problems can lead to serious complications, impacting overall well-being and exacerbating health inequalities.

“The consequences of untreated oral diseases are not just confined to the mouth,” adds Dr Carter. “The effects ripple through our overall health. For instance, untreated gum disease is linked to serious conditions like cardiovascular disease, strokes, Alzheimer's, and diabetes.”

Dr Carter says: “The potential outcomes are alarming – a surge in preventable chronic illnesses could diminish people's quality of life and impose staggering healthcare costs.”

The charity is urging the political parties to prioritise NHS dentistry reform, addressing issues such as patient costs, workforce shortages and the NHS dental contract.

Without immediate intervention to tackle rising NHS dental costs, the Oral Health Foundation believes unresolved dental issues will increase. The charity says this will increase health disparities, and place further strain on healthcare resources.

“Failure to act swiftly could result in a dental health crisis,” adds Dr Carter. “This will have far-reaching consequences for public health. It is imperative that the next government, regardless of the election outcome, takes urgent action to ensure accessible, affordable dental care for all.”

In the meantime, the charity emphasises that the best way to save money on dental care is prevention. They say a good oral care routine can help avoid expensive corrective dental treatment.

Regular brushing, interdental cleaning, a low-sugar diet and dental check-ups can prevent minor issues from escalating into serious conditions that require costly interventions.