Rising cost of NHS dentistry could lead to ‘health crisis’, experts say

Rising cost of NHS dentistry could lead to 'health crisis', experts say

Four in 10 (41%) cited cost as a primary barrier to seeking dental care, sparking warnings that NHS services are ‘unsustainable’ without change.

A further 17% reported difficulty in finding a local NHS dentist, while 12% had struggled to get an appointment, according to the Oral Health Foundation (OHF) survey.

The charity said that NHS treatment charges have surged at a rate of 50% over the last decade, calling it ‘alarming’ and highlighting that it far exceeds the rate of inflation.

Nigel Carter, chief executive of the OHF, described the cost increase as ‘unsustainable’. He said: ‘For decades, NHS dentistry has been perceived as a separate entity from other NHS services, with patients bearing the brunt of rising costs. This trajectory is unsustainable, especially for vulnerable populations who depend on fully accessible and affordable dental care.’

The OHF said that unresolved dental issues would increase without ‘immediate intervention’ to tackle the cost of NHS dentistry. Dr Carter continued: ‘The consequences of untreated oral diseases are not just confined to the mouth. The effects ripple through our overall health. For instance, untreated gum disease is linked to serious conditions like cardiovascular disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.

‘The potential outcomes are alarming – a surge in preventable chronic illnesses could diminish people’s quality of life and impose staggering healthcare costs.’

‘Far-reaching consequences for public health’

The OHF urged political parties to prioritise reform of NHS dentistry in their pre-election campaigns. Specific issues cited include cost to patients, workforce shortages and the NHS dental contract. Without such action, Nigel Carter warned of an impending ‘dental health crisis’.

He said: ‘Failure to act swiftly could result in a dental health crisis. This will have far-reaching consequences for public health. It is imperative that the next government, regardless of the election outcome, takes urgent action to ensure accessible, affordable dental care for all.’

A recent YouGov poll found that NHS dentistry was a top concern for voters ahead of the upcoming general election. Eight in 10 (80%) said that the government should be doing more to improve NHS dentistry, with only 9% saying that was doing all it reasonably can.

Almost one third (28%) said local dentistry services were the most important issue in their area. This was a greater proportion than crime (24%), public transport (15%) and schools and education (11%). Seven in 10 (71%) also said that dentistry was the least accessible public service.

BDA chair Eddie Crouch said: ‘NHS dentistry is now a top issue on the doorstep because millions have no options. Access and cost of living crises have collided, and thus far government hasn’t stepped up to the plate. Politicians might lose their seats if they fail to act, but voters risk losing this service for good.’

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