24 June 2024

The Oral Health Foundation has launched a manifesto laying out key priorities for the next government to transform oral health across the United Kingdom.

The manifesto, titled ‘Prevention, care, education: A people’s manifesto for improved oral health in the UK’ has been published ahead of the 2024 General Election and serves as a call to action for the next government to see oral health as a crucial component of overall wellbeing.

The charity says oral health plays a pivotal role in daily lives and is a fundamental right that should be accessible to everyone, regardless of socio-economic status. Recently, the charity has been critical of successive governments for the insufficient attention oral health continues to receive within the broader healthcare narrative.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says: "This oral health manifesto, timed with the UK general election, transcends politics. To improve and protect the nation’s oral health, we must have long-term commitment and unified strategies across all political parties. It’s time to move beyond vote-winning tactics and truly address the challenges in our oral health sector.

“This manifesto seeks to elevate oral health in national health discourse, emphasising preventive care, and advocating for equitable access to oral health services. We envision a future where oral health is no longer an afterthought but a priority. We call on all political parties to join us in this mission as we strive to make oral health a national health priority.”

Three pillars for better oral health

The Oral Health Foundation’s manifesto champions three key pillars for improving oral health: preventive measures, access to high-quality care, and investment in educational programmes.

"We want to use these three pillars as a foundation to guide the next government’s actions to safeguard our nation's oral health,” adds Dr Carter.

“Prevention is our first line of defence, by instilling strong daily routines at home. These practices, such as water fluoridation, regular check-ups and fluoride treatments, are not only cost-effective but vital for early disease detection and management.

“The current NHS dental crisis underscores the necessity of accessible, quality care. We are advocating for an integrated healthcare approach, where dental professionals, GPs, pharmacies, and social care collaborate to provide comprehensive patient care. This ensures timely interventions and better health outcomes.

“Lastly, we must address the educational gap. Our children's oral health knowledge lags behind their international peers, particularly affecting marginalised communities. Investing in educational programmes is crucial for instilling lifelong habits of oral health maintenance.”

Ten policies to improve oral health in the UK

To address these challenges, the Oral Health Foundation propose the following policy priorities:

·       Introduce a new NHS dental contract: Reform the NHS dental contract to prioritise preventive care over restoration.

·       Universal water fluoridation: Implement widespread water fluoridation across the UK to prevent tooth decay and reduce inequalities.

·       Prioritise oral health promotion teams: Bring back and expand oral health promotion teams to improve public oral health through education and early detection.

·       Invest in toothbrushing programmes: Increase toothbrushing programmes in early years settings and schools to promote good oral hygiene from a young age.

·       Get tough on sugar: Introduce a broader sugar tax to cover more sugary drinks, and stop junk food ads aimed at kids, especially on TV and online.

·       Progressive smoking age legislation: The next government should pass laws to stop anyone born after 2009 from buying tobacco and to gradually raise the smoking age from 18.

·       Ringfence funding for educational campaigns: Secure government funds for oral health campaigns to educate the public and promote preventive care.

·       Integrate oral health and general health: Incorporate oral health within the general health system to enhance public wellbeing and reduce healthcare costs.

·       Ensure a sufficient dental workforce: Address the dental workforce shortage by recognising overseas qualifications, expanding dental schools, and improving career development in dentistry.

·       Make dentistry more affordable: Reassess the cost of NHS dentistry to ensure it is affordable for all, particularly during the cost of living crisis.

Call to Action

The Oral Health Foundation believes oral health has fallen down the political agenda for too long and has been neglected to the cost of both the patient and profession.

Oral health is integral to overall well-being, affecting quality of life and the ability to function daily. By prioritising oral health, we can ensure a healthier population, reduce healthcare costs, and promote a productive workforce.

The charity is urging the public and policymakers to support these initiatives. Download and share ‘Prevention, care, education: A people’s manifesto for improved oral health in the UK’ from the Oral Health Foundation’s website at www.dentalhealth.org/manifesto2024.