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Improving oral health: it's time for Wales to step up

Blog Author Tom Bysouth

Blog Date 04/04/2018


(pictured left to right: Russell George AM, Dave Johnson, Chair of the Welsh Committee for Community Dentists, Katrina Clarke, Chair BDA Welsh Council, Tom Bysouth, Chair of the Welsh General Dental Practice Committee)


Despite some advances for the overall oral health of people in Wales, the current state of people's teeth shows some surprising, and - in 2018-  frankly, unacceptable levels of inequality, which need fixing. 

Oral health outcomes for children in Wales are lagging far behind their English counterparts. Recent statistics show that over one third of five-year-olds suffer from visible dental decay

What's more, 22 per cent of the five- to fifteen-year-olds who live in Wales show extensive tooth decay (dmft of 5+), which is 10 per cent higher than that seen in England.

In Wales, the numbers of new diagnoses of mouth cancer continues to rise, with over 500 new cases between 2012 and 2014, this is an increase of around one third since the turn of the millennium. The spend on cancer accounts for nearly seven per cent of all NHS expenditure in Wales and in 2014-15 this amounted to £409 million – the fourth biggest spending area for NHS Wales. 

The latest report from the Welsh Government reviewing the 2013 Oral Health Plan does show some improvements, but we think more must still be done to improve the oral health of people in our country. 

Now is the time for Welsh Government to step up and commit to providing a preventative approach to ensure good oral health for everyone. 

Designed to Smile, the targeted national oral health improvement programme for children, has been making some great strides. However, dental decay requiring multiple extractions is still the number one reason why five- to nine-year-olds are being admitted to hospital – and the children in this age group are not receiving any formal education about their ongoing oral health. 

With access to more funding, we could definitely put a smile on more children's faces.

The sugar levy (tax) is nearly upon us, so there is some glimmer of hope that this will have a positive impact on oral health. The tax is on fizzy drinks, squashes and still drinks with high levels of sugar, but crucially it does not include that often 'packed with sugar' culprit, milkshake. 

We've asked for some of the money from the levy to be invested into dentistry, as this could be used to support a real joined-up strategy for oral health that has a focus on prevention.

We continue to engage with government and stakeholders, to give help bring these facts to life and push for better for our children, and the profession as a whole.

We recently held an event at the Welsh Assembly, inviting Assembly Members (AM) to be briefed on oral health issues and to really bring home the message that it is time for joined up strategy for oral health which is backed up with real investment.

Russell George AM hosted the event for us, as he has taken interest in access to dentistry in Wales, it being raised many times as an issue in his constituency.

A range of AMs attended, as well as stakeholders including Cancer Research Wales, and your representatives from our Committees were there to speak up for dentistry.


Only by hearing the experiences of dentists on the ground, can we demonstrate the full extent of these issues.


Some of those attending were really surprised by the amount of sugar in some foods and the issues that we are facing in the profession, especially in getting good oral hygiene messages across to patients, and the lack of time and resources we have to do this under the current NHS contract.

We'd also love to hear from you – if you have any comments, or would like to tell us about the issues you are facing, do get in touch.

Tom Bysouth, Chair

Wales General Dental Practice Committee

Working for you: BDA Wales

BDA Wales campaigns for the interests of all dentists working in Wales. With our elected committee members, we negotiate on behalf of the profession on terms and conditions, pay and contracts: join us.


We campaign on a range of issues for better working lives for dentists and we work to improve the oral health of the nation. Find out more about our work on sugar and children's oral healthteeth whiteningantibiotic prescribing, and oral cancer.