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Moving the agenda forward: prioritising oral health in Northern Ireland

Blog Author Tristen Kelso

Blog Date 06/11/2019


Improving the oral health of the Northern Ireland population is a key area of BDA Northern Ireland's work, and that's why we decided to bring together politicians and other key stakeholders at a recent summit in Stormont, to discuss what needs to happen to move the agenda forward.


Our event focused on the need for a new ambitious vision for oral health in Northern Ireland to tackle oral health issues. We've long been pointing out that Northern Ireland's Oral Health Strategy is now over 12 years old (it was launched in 2007), and isn't fit for purpose.


Health spokespeople from all of the major political parties in Northern Ireland were represented, along with a wide range of stakeholders including dentists, public health representatives, policymakers, advocates and charities.

Roz McMullan, Simon Reid, Caroline Lappin, Michael Donaldson

Photo: (left to right) Roz McMullan, President, British Dental Association, Simon Reid, Chief Dental Officer for Northern Ireland, Caroline Lappin, Chair of the BDA's NI Council, Michael Donaldson, Head of Dental Services, Health & Social Care Board (HSCB) (c) BDA

This landmark event was really important in demonstrating that the BDA leads the way when it comes to setting the dental and oral health agenda, and in connecting the dental profession with key stakeholders, all of whom have a shared interest in our issues. It was also a perfect setting for us to demonstrate the level of political support towards addressing the significant oral health challenges we face.


According to the latest Child Dental Health Survey which was published in 2015, just 19% of 15-year olds were considered to have 'good oral health'. In 2017/18 almost 5,000 (4,724) children faced tooth extraction under General Anaesthetic (GA) in Northern Ireland (x3 times pro-rata than England) – these are very concerning figures, which we've been highlighting.


We've also been campaigning about the mounting pressures on dentists to meet the challenges of treating a growing ageing population, who are increasingly keeping some of their natural teeth as they get older.


So, we welcomed the Chief Dental Officer for Northern Ireland, Simon Reid's announcement of two new "oral health options" groups which will focus on developing options to improve child oral health, and oral health provision of the elderly, we see this as this is a significant step forward.


These new options groups will give dentists an opportunity to work with the Department of Health and HSCB colleagues to generate ideas to deliver much needed advances in population oral health.


It was also encouraging to see the Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland advocate for urgent improvements to be made to oral care provision for older people in Northern Ireland, alongside the Children's Commissioner, who has called for more to be done to tackle oral health inequalities to give children the best start in life. As the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission representative said at our event, oral health goes to the heart of core human rights, and must not be regarded as an optional extra.


These are positive steps, and we will continue to lobby on our members' behalf to ensure dentists really can provide the best dental care to all patients.


To be successful, the new oral health options groups will need to acknowledge the significant workforce pressures within the CDS, and the financial pressures GDPs increasingly face within the GDS.


We should take heart from the high-level advocates who have joined with BDA to make the case for oral health matters to be prioritised in Northern Ireland.


As BDA President Roz McMullan said as she summed up, "we must not accept the status quo".


Tristen Kelso, BDA Northern Ireland Director



BDA Northern Ireland

BDA Northern Ireland supports, represents and promotes, the interests of all dentists working in Northern Ireland. Working with elected committee members, we negotiate on behalf of the profession on terms and conditions, pay and contracts. Join us.