Oral health in NI ‘stagnating’, say dentists

Northern Ireland has among of the highest number of general anaesthetic tooth extractions in the UK, dentists warned.

Progress on improving oral health in Northern Ireland risks stagnation in the absence of any coordinated plan, the British Dental Association in Northern Ireland (BDANI) said.

Health service dentistry has become synonymous with low pay, low morale and working longer hours, the representative organisation added.

The BDANI’s director, Tristen Kelso, said: “Oral health – which historically has been accepted as being the worst in the UK – has also been functioning in a policy vacuum in the absence of a current oral health strategy.”

The most recent dates back to 2007.

Mr Kelso said in Northern Ireland the number of general anaesthetic tooth extractions was 12 people out of 1,000. In England the total was four per 1,000.

Child tooth ops figures
Child tooth ops figures

He said: “Regrettably, in the absence of any co-ordinated plan or direction for the delivery of dental and oral health services, or any fresh targets to press towards, we are concerned that oral health will simply stagnate.

“Moreover, at a time when health service dentistry has become synonymous with low pay, low morale and working longer hours as confirmed by NHS Digital statistics, we are concerned about its long-term sustainability without a fundamental shift in approach.”

In a submission to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs at Westminster, the professional organisation acknowledged that child oral health had seen steady improvement.

Mr Kelso urged: “We believe much more can be achieved simply by better co-ordination of resources and stakeholders, and a fresh ambitious vision for the improvements we want to make.

“In essence, a prioritisation of oral health by the Department of Health, and in so doing, acknowledging the wider health benefits that could be achieved via upstream intervention – on obesity, diabetes, cancer and beyond – is badly needed.”

He said his organisation’s efforts to engineer change via a new oral health strategy had been met with resistance, adding: “There is a public health, not to mention a financial and good governance imperative to ensure that finite resources are allocated in a way that seeks to maximise outcomes for the population.

“At a time when, ‘sugar is the new tobacco’, more than ever we need an ambitious and joined-up approach to oral health that is imaginative enough to impact positively on overall population health.”

The chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Dr Andrew Murrison, said the letter revealed that Northern Ireland had the worst oral health in the UK and no strategy to improve it.

He added: “My Committee has been struck by the bleak picture of Northern Ireland’s health care and we will be questioning the permanent secretary of the Northern Ireland Department of Health about our concerns.”