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Prevention in dentistry: A new Government, but an old problem

Blog Author Mick Armstrong

Blog Date 31/07/2019

phe-roi-oralhealth-650px.jpg

Graphic: Public Health England, (2016)



If you missed the long-awaited Department of Health's Green Paper on prevention you’re probably not alone.

Any government that wants to get attention for a major bit of policy work doesn’t usually set out to publish it at night, without so much as a press release.

But this document matters. It was once billed as the cornerstone for a 21st century NHS. And it is our responsibility that it lives up to that promise. 

Because from supervised brushing to fluoridation it contains big ideas we’ve long championed that could have a transformative impact on oral health.

Yes, we’ve heard word of intrigues in the Department of Health. Stories of an apparent volte-face on the sugar tax. Threats to pull the DH logo off a document that’s been developed by DH for months.


Making the case for prevention in dentistry

But we will pay no heed to the gossip. We have a new government, we have a new minister. We will work with them, and make the case for prevention.

The reason why is that this document covers numerous tried-and-tested policies, which could save children from pain and our NHS millions in treatment costs.

Further pledges to ban sales of energy drinks to under-16s, to expand the sugar levy to cover milk-based drinks, and fresh action on childhood obesity that could directly benefit our patients. 

The Government is now seeking feedback on this Green Paper, and we are setting out to speak up for this profession.

It’s the same argument we’ve already taken into Minister’s offices. We all know prevention is better than cure – because the government’s own models show it can pay for itself.

The problem as ever though is detail. We have commitments to support fluoridation, but do we have tangible commitments to support cash-strapped councils on the up-front costs of feasibility studies and public consultations?

If the Government really wants to see progress then it will need to put its money where its mouth is.


Investment for supervised brushing is needed

The same on supervised brushing, already delivered in schools and nurseries across Wales and Scotland. Where it works devolved governments have set out dedicated strategies, with proper investment. 


The result? Record-breaking falls in childhood decay.

So deeds, not words must be the mantra, with tangible support to help unlock the huge return on investment these policies can secure.

And of course, we’re equally determined to protect the wins we’ve secured. There can be no backtracking on the sugar levy. 


What we’re missing is seeing these proceeds put to use on oral health programmes where they can make a real difference.

It's fitting timing that this Green Paper launched in a week the Lancet began showcasing research from preeminent public health experts from across the globe on how inadequate planning and failures on prevention have left 3.5 billion people with poor dental care.

This is not a time for any responsible government to have its head in the sand. 


And in a rush to avoid the charge of 'nanny statism', the first casualty cannot be evidence-based policymaking.

All health professionals will look to this next UK Government to show leadership, and we will not let this process be swept under the carpet.

Mick Armstrong, Chair
BDA Principal Executive Committee


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