​Dentists: Scotland has to step up and fight oral disease

8 April 2016

Dentists are pressing on the next Scottish government to tackle Scotland's oral health epidemic by confronting the rise of oral cancer, extending pioneering preventive programmes for poorer children, and extending provision to vulnerable patients in care homes. 

Launching their 5 point plan the British Dental Association Scotland (BDA Scotland) has called on all parties to raise awareness of oral cancer through better public dental education on the early signs and symptoms.

The European age-standardised incidence rates for both men and women is significantly higher in Scotland at 16.8 per 100,000 per compared with 12.4 in England, and 11.9 in Northern Ireland. The BDA has called for the extension of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations to boys and for the next government to address the significant shortage of oral maxillofacial surgeons and oral medicine specialists that has led to considerable delays in treatment. 

The BDA has called on the next government to build on the success of the Childsmile initiative by extending its coverage to 5-12 year olds. The scheme has already delivered huge improvements to the oral health of under-fives, by offering free toothbrushes, toothpaste and two fluoride varnish applications per year. The number of children in primary one with "no obvious decay experience" has increased from 54 per cent in 2006 to 68 per cent in 2014 – while dental treatment costs in Scotland have fallen by £5 million a year. 

Older Scots have complex and often unmet needs. BDA Scotland is also pressing to get patients in nursing homes registered with a dentist to ensure they receive appropriate care. 

The Chair of the BDA's Scottish Council, Adrian Hart, said: 

"We are facing an oral disease epidemic, and the next government has to decide whether it's willing to step up and make a stand.   

"Scotland has been topping the league tables on oral cancer. If spotted early survival rates can reach 90 per cent, but delay is costing lives. The next government has to ensure the shortage of oral surgeons is addressed, and that the public are fully aware of the risks.  We need a plan on education, prevention and diagnosis.  

"Recent governments have been pioneers in prevention. Childsmile has brought down decay, but it's not right that a child growing up in a poorer part of Scotland is still over 20 per cent more likely to end up with visible decay than one born in an affluent area. The initiative is currently saving baby teeth, and a fortune in treatment costs. Extending this scheme to cover 5-12 year olds means we can start saving permanent teeth and take more pressure off a cash strapped service. 

"Every year over 7,000 patients are diagnosed with dementia, and officials can't let their oral care remain an afterthought. We need to get patients in care homes registered with dentists so they can get the expert care they deserve."

Commenting on recent moves from the UK government to introduce a sugar levy, Adrian Hart added: 

"Holyrood still has more work to do on sugar. We have an ingredient that's cheap, addictive and has no nutritional value. The next Scottish government has to build on this levy, and take action on marketing, food labelling and public education to ensure families can make the right choices."

A five point plan for better oral health in Scotland:

1. Tackle inequalities early

Childsmile has already delivered huge improvements to the oral health of under-fives. Let's build on that success, by extending the programme to 5-12 year olds.

2. Address the funding shortfall

NHS dentistry is struggling to keep up with demand. Let's build a more transparent payment system so patients can make informed choices and have options to supplement NHS care.

3. Improve the oral health of the elderly

Increasingly older Scots have complex and often unmet needs. Let's get patients in nursing homes registered with a dentist so we can ensure they get the dedicated care they need.

4. Action on oral cancer

Scotland has one of the highest oral cancer rates in Western Europe. Let's raise awareness of this disease, and ensure dentists can turn the tide through prevention and diagnosis.

5. Deliver effective oral health for all

Tooth decay is almost always preventable. Let's put cost-effective measures like action on sugar and targeted fluoridation at the heart of Scotland's approach to improving health.

The BDA manifesto for the 2016 Scottish Elections is available at www.bda.org/scotland2016

The oral disease epidemic in Scotland: 

  • Thirty six per cent of children living in areas of higher economic and social deprivation have obvious tooth decay compared to fifteen per cent in the more affluent areas. (National Dental Inspection Programme (NDIP) Report 2015 published by ISD Scotland)
  • In Scotland, problems resulting from tooth decay are the number one reason children are admitted to hospital.
  • In 2014/15 7025 children in Scotland were admitted to hospital in order to undergo dental extractions (ISD Scotland Analysis of Hospital Inpatient Procedures for Children 2014). BDA Scotland believe that that further work needs to be targeted at children in living in poor and deprived circumstances.

About the BDA

The British Dental Association (BDA) is the professional association and trade union for dentists in the UK. It represents dentists working in general practice, in community and hospital settings, in academia and research, and in the armed forces, and includes dental students. The BDA promotes members’ interests, advances the science, arts and ethics of dentistry, and contributes towards improving the nation's oral health.

For further information, please contact the BDA's media team on 0207 563 4145/46 or visit the BDA's news centre. You can also follow news from the BDA on Twitter. Membership packages reflect the varied needs of dentists.