22 May 2023

  • New research from Frontier Economics has estimated cost savings to the NHS and patients of rolling out oral health measures to prevent tooth decay.
  • The oral health benefits of chewing sugar-free gum three times per day could prevent over 180,000 fillings a year alone.
  • Introducing a package of three preventative policies could save NHS dentistry £51m and NHS dental patients almost £100m annually.

A new report commissioned by the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme has found that rolling out three preventative oral health interventions could reduce unnecessary trips to the dentist, saving individuals and the NHS millions of pounds, while freeing up capacity to deliver up to 8.3m more check-ups.

The report, Economic Value of Good Oral Health, was undertaken by Frontier Economics and has today been launched by the Wrigley to mark the Oral Health Foundation’s National Smile Month.

It shows that if most people chewed sugar-free chewing gum three times a day, there could be an estimated 109,430 fewer tooth extractions carried out on the NHS every year. Additionally, there would be up to 182,383 fewer fillings and 36,477 fewer root canals. The associated savings to NHS dental services could reach over £7.9m – which, if reinvested, could fund an additional 1.29m check-ups every year.

Chewing sugar-free gum was one of three potential preventative interventions measured by Frontier Economics.

In addition, rolling out water fluoridation to the 90% of the population who are not already covered in England and Wales would reduce incidents of tooth decay by an estimated 6%. The resultant impact would be an estimated 1.2m fewer tooth extractions, 1.6m fewer fillings, and over 226,000 fewer root canal treatments every year. NHS dental services would stand to save over £35m per year as a result – the equivalent of funding 5.7m check-ups.

A programme of supervised brushing, targeted at children aged between three and six living in the poorest 20% of areas, would save the NHS £8m a year. The measure could lead to 28,000 fewer tooth extractions, 28,000 fewer fillings, and 2,700 fewer root canal treatments per year.

In total, if all three oral health prevention policies were rolled out in England and Wales, it is calculated that combined savings to the NHS could reach £51m and there could be up to:

  • 1.43m fewer tooth extractions;

  • 1.8m fewer fillings; and

  • Over 265,000 fewer root canal treatments every year.

Meanwhile, NHS dental patients could save up to £95.9m collectively by avoiding the need for urgent treatments and making the need for check-ups less frequent.

Commenting on the launch of the report, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation said:

“The NHS is currently struggling to fund the dentistry this country needs and deserves. Pressures on staffing are hitting all areas of health care. A simple increase in funding will not sort out these problems for several years. In the meantime, it is evident that if we can move to a preventative approach, we can have much healthier mouths.

“We can reach all areas of society with the implementation of more water fluoridation schemes. If we take on the suggested plans for fluoridation in the new report, it will result in an estimated 1.2m fewer tooth extractions and 1.6m fewer fillings every year. The oral health benefits of chewing sugar-free gum three times per day could also prevent a substantial number of fillings a year, a fantastic result from a very simple habit.

“We need to make impactful and long-term changes to how we handle oral health in the UK to secure a better oral health future. It would help relieve pressure on NHS funding for dentistry and improve people’s oral health related quality of life. Having a healthy mouth is an essential part of having good overall general health.”

Dr Mike Dodds, BDS PhD, Senior Principal Scientist with the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Program, said:

“The evidence has long shown that sugar-free chewing gum can promote good oral health. Chewing gum can help neutralise plaque acids, maintain tooth mineralisation, and reduce the incidence of dental caries.

“We know that dental services are under real strain right now, with a backlog from the pandemic still being worked through. So the role of preventative policies, that can help reduce demand on services, is more important than ever.

“Chewing sugar-free gum is one simple, effective and enjoyable thing people can do to prevent tooth decay and support good oral health.”

Speaking to the research, Matthew Bell, Board Director and co-Head of Public Policy at Frontier Economics said:

“Oral health is important for overall health, which can also translate into lower dental costs for individuals and for the NHS.

“Our report draws on existing evidence and presents new analysis linking improved oral health measures, such as fluoridation, sugar-free gum and supervised brushing programmes, to reduced dental costs for individuals and for the NHS, alongside improved health and wellbeing.”