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Dentists: Scotland's attendance gap shows no sign of closing

21 January 2020

BDA Scotland has called for a concerted effort to get low-income patients to attend their dentist as new data shows the attendance gap between Scotland's most and least deprived communities continues to grow.  

While registration in Scotland continues to break records (up from 94.2% in 2018 to 95.7% in 2019), data from the NHS Scotland Information Services Division shows the overall attendance rate has continued to fall from around 98% between September 2006 and March 2008, to a record low of around 69% in September 2019. 


The percentage of children visiting the dentist in a 2-year period fell from 97% in 2007 to 83.7% in 2019. For adults, attendance fell from 98.7% to 65.4% between 2007 and 2019.

The BDA is also concerned that the difference in attendance rates between our most and least deprived areas has reached an all-time high for both adults and children.


At September 2019, 60.8% of adults in Scotland's poorest areas saw their dentist in the last 2 years, compared to 71.5% of those in the most affluent neighbourhoods. Among children, the figures were 79.0% and 88.8.

Attendance gaps have continued to increase reaching 9.8 percentage points for children and 10.7 percentage points for adults, both rising from just 3 percentage points in 2008 to record highs in 2019. Adults on lower incomes remain more likely to be registered with an NHS dentist than their wealthier counterparts, at 99.3% compared to 90.2%

BDA Scotland has previously highlighted the persistent oral health inequalities between the most and least deprived areas, and warned of the high cost of failure on prevention.

As part of its Oral Health Improvement Plan, published in January 2018, the Scottish Government has funded 22 local projects through a three-year Community Challenge Fund to improve oral health and help tackle health inequalities.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which contains four of the five most deprived data zones in the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) spends £59 per head of adult population on dental treatment - £9 more than the Scottish average - reflecting the higher costs of curative treatment.

Chair of the BDA's Scottish Council, Robert Donald, said:

"Being on the register is meaningless if patients aren't making it to their dentist. Behind the spin is a large and growing gulf in attendance between rich and poor.


"Scotland's most deprived communities face major oral health challenges, yet there is little energy to bridge this divide. When patients bottle up problems we all pay the price. The Scottish Government could save patients pain and our NHS a fortune by encouraging regular check-ups."


Improving oral health: prevention first

We campaign on a range of issues for better working lives for dentists and we work to improve the oral health of people in Scotland.

Through our policy and campaigning work, we ensure that the concerns of all sections of the profession are raised and that dentists' voices are heard at a national level: join us.