THE new crisis in oral health – and quite shocking statistic that up to half of children in some parts of Yorkshire did not see a dentist last year – has its roots in the long queues witnessed on the county’s streets nearly 15 years ago.
People weren’t queuing around the block in 2004 because they were fearing a run on the bank. That was still to come. They were doing so because a NHS dentist was opening in Scarborough and they wanted to secure a place.
Perhaps dentists – and the public – need to take to the streets again to highlight a systemic ‘vicious circle’ in funding that is compromising oral hygiene, exacerbating dental decay and creating problems for the future if left untreated. The reason is this: instead of being paid based on the number of patients treated, dentists work to a target-based system under their current contract. It means dentists recoup the same amount of money for treating a patient who needs one filling as they do for helping somebody who needs 10.
However, while it is an incentive to dentists to undertake the most routine treatment, care is subject to a ‘postcode lottery’ as two-thirds of practices report recruitment difficulties, a legacy of the failure of successive governments to invest enough money in the training of sufficient doctors, nurses and dentists for the future.
And the biggest concern is the sheer number of youngsters who don’t have a check-up at least once a year. Unless they get in the routine of attending a dentist, and learning that the time spent each day brushing their teeth is vital to their health, problems will only intensify. As such, it’s time to stop the rot and today’s revelations should trigger a root-and-branch review into the future funding of dentistry so care is more widely accessible to all – Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt shouldn’t, by now, need reminding of the adage that prevention is better than cure.