Tooth Pain Forces a Third of Britons to Take Sick Leave
A survey conducted by health insurance company Simplyhealth has revealed that a significant portion of the UK population has had to take time off work due to tooth pain resulting from the inability to access dental care. Out of more than 5,000 respondents, 28 percent reported taking sick leave because of toothaches. Shockingly, 7 percent of these individuals experienced such severe pain that they had to take an entire week off from work. If these findings are extrapolated to the entire UK population, it would translate to the country losing a staggering 23 million sick days.
A Dental Desert: 12 Percent Unable to Secure NHS Dental Appointments
The survey also shed light on the issue of dental deserts, with 12 percent of Britons struggling to book an appointment with an NHS dentist. Concerns about the cost of private dental care further compounded the problem, as one in ten respondents stated they no longer visit a dentist due to the inability to afford treatment.
Simplyhealth’s Clinical Director Comments on Dental Care
Dr. Catherine Rutland, Clinical Director at Simplyhealth, commented on the survey’s findings, emphasizing that they underscore the inadequacies in dental care provision within the UK. This revelation adds to the mounting evidence of the challenges faced by Britons in accessing dental services.
Challenges in NHS Dentistry
The situation in NHS dentistry has been described as “totally unacceptable in the 21st century” by the Health and Social Care Committee. Official NHS data from last month indicated that less than half of adults in England had seen a dentist within the past two years.
Cost of NHS Dentistry
The cost of NHS dentistry is broken down into three bands: Band 1 (£23.80), Band 2 (£65.20), and Band 3 (£282.80). These bands cover various levels of treatment, including examinations, fillings, and more complex procedures like crowns and dentures. In contrast, private dentists can charge between £20 and £120 for check-ups, and treatments like dentures and bridges can cost up to £2,520.
Impact on Oral Health and Access to Care
The difficulties in accessing NHS dentists have raised concerns about people forgoing essential treatment or attempting DIY dentistry, which may lead to more expensive and complicated care in the future. Additionally, there are fears that cases of oral cancer, often detected during routine dental check-ups, may go unnoticed, potentially resulting in serious consequences.
Overwhelmed Dentists and ‘Dental Deserts’
Dentists who accept new NHS patients have been inundated, with reports of long queues and thousands of phone calls for just a few available slots. The British Dental Association has warned that such scenes could become the norm.
Chronic Underfunding and Contract Issues in NHS Dentistry
NHS dentistry has been grappling with a crisis for years, largely attributed to chronic underfunding and issues with the dental contract structure. Dentists were previously paid per job rather than for the amount of work required, leading to disparities in funding for different procedures. This, combined with lower pay compared to the private sector, long working hours, and burnout, has driven many dentists away from the NHS.
Proposed Solutions and Government Efforts
While the dental contract was recently reformed as part of government initiatives to improve access to NHS dentistry, industry bodies argue that these changes have not gone far enough. The exodus of dentists from the NHS has resulted in an overwhelming patient load for those who remain, exacerbating the crisis. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has even suggested that British dentists might be required to work for the NHS for years after completing their studies as a potential solution to the ongoing challenges in dental care.