The British Dental Association has called on ministers to act on the latest report from Public Health England on the shocking oral health gap between rich and poor, warning that without dedicated action from government inequalities will widen as a result of the COVID pandemic.

The report shows relative inequalities in the prevalence of tooth decay in 5-year-old children in England increased from 2008 to 2019. The BDA has expressed deep concern these inequalities will widen given the suspension of public health programmes over the last year, and ongoing difficulties accessing services. 

Decay remains the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children, with official surveys indicating a tenfold difference in severity of tooth decay between the richest and most deprived communities.

The BDA strongly endorses PHE’s policy recommendations on supervised brushing in early years settings and water fluoridation, both of which are clinically proven and cost-saving according to government own modelling, based on the corresponding reduction in treatment need.

Dentist leaders have welcomed recent signs of support for both policies from the Department of Health, but stressed progress will only be possible if government is prepared to offer dedicated funding to support set-up and operating costs. The government’s promise to consult on a national supervised brushing scheme for England by the end of 2020 has yet to materialise.

BDA Chair Eddie Chair said:

“The oral health gap between rich and poor is not inevitable. Sadly, the pandemic means shameful levels of inequality are set to widen.

“We need deeds not words from government, with real support for practices and action on prevention. These programmes can pay for themselves, but until Ministers offer tangible commitments we will not see progress.”