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Why bad teeth can mean bad prospects

Blog Author Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen

Blog Date 22/06/2016

​In a job interview first impressions count. In an increasingly competitive jobs market you simply don't want to give the panel a reason to look elsewhere or be distracted by your personal appearance.


So turning up to an interview in a t-shirt probably isn't the best idea. As dentists we wanted to see where teeth fit into the equation, and I'll admit we were taken aback by the results.


It seems the public now view poor oral health alongside scruffiness, and is way ahead of weight and dress code violations, as a barrier to getting hired.


We got YouGov to ask a representative sample of the public what they felt would hinder a candidate's chances of securing employment in roles like receptionists or solicitors; public or client-facing roles where first impressions matter.


A whopping 77% of respondents felt that decayed teeth or bad breath would be a barrier– while only half that number felt the same about being overweight.


Sixty-two per cent felt applicants with visibly decayed teeth, missing teeth or bad breath would be at a disadvantage securing any role, with six in 10 believing it could hinder promotion prospects.


What's telling was the consistency of the responses. Rich and poor, young and old, English, Welsh and Scots, all drew the same the conclusions. The public consistently ranked teeth alongside scruffiness, and way ahead of weight and dress code violations, as a barrier to getting hired.


It's a stark reminder that a winning smile isn't just for fans of selfies, it's for anyone who wants to get on in life.


What can we do about it then? For candidates the lesson is simple: take good care of your teeth; use a fluoride toothpaste; see your dentist regularly.


But there is a bigger issue here for parents and for government. And it concerns life chances.


Tooth decay remains the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children. Despite some modest improvements in decay rates, recent data from Public Health England showed deep oral health inequalities are persisting, with a child born in Blackburn being nearly seven times more likely to experience decay than one born in the Surrey constituency of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.


Independent studies have shown oral health problems can have a lasting impact on children's school readiness, impair their nutrition, development, and ability to socialise with other children. It's tragic that more than a quarter of teenagers say they are too embarrassed to smile or laugh due to the condition of their teeth.


These new numbers show why government must act to break the link between decay and deprivation.

Ministers have viewed oral health as an 'optional extra' for far too long. For the children lining up for tooth extractions in our hospitals, decay has long-term consequences, as whatever they grow up to be, the state of their mouths can affect their life chances.


In Scotland and Wales, devolved governments have set out a strategy and have national programmes to address these inequalities. Young children in areas of high need are now getting support in nurseries, including supervised brushing and fluoride varnish applications.


It's forward thinking that's already started bringing down decay rates and lowering treatment costs. It's an investment we hope will bring long lasting benefits for each child as they progress through school and off into the job market.


Sadly, in England the link between decay and deprivation is still going unchecked. Ten pilot preventive schemes have been announced, targeting areas with high decay rates, but ministers have provided no details or pledged any dedicated funding.


We think all children deserve the best start, and government must do more than pay lip service to these shocking inequalities and we will continue to fight for better oral health for all.


Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen
Chair, General Dental Practice Committee


Coordinated action needed to tackle oral health inequalities

Find out what we said at a recent All-Party Parliamentary Group for dentistry and oral health meeting, focusing on tackling the problem of oral health inequalities.