Reducing tooth decay – new report

Water fluoridation, sugar-free gum, supervised brushing: how to save the NHS £50m-plus

06 June, 2023 / infocus
 Will Peakin  

A leading national charity is backing the release of a landmark new report that aims to reduce the number of people suffering from tooth decay while also saving the NHS millions.

The Oral Health Foundation is calling for the immediate roll out of three oral health policies outlined in the review and believes they have the potential to reduce unnecessary trips to the dentist, save people and the NHS millions of pounds, and free up capacity to deliver up to 8.3m more check-ups.

The report, Economic Value of Good Oral Health1, was undertaken by Frontier Economics and was launched to coincide with National Smile Month.

It says that water fluoridation programmes, sugar-free chewing gum and supervised toothbrushing could result in 1.43 million fewer tooth extractions, 1.6 million fewer fillings and 265,000 fewer root canal treatments carried out on the NHS every year. The associated savings to NHS dental services could reach more than £51m.

The Oral Health Foundation believe that with more people finding it difficult to access NHS dentistry, along with the significant cost of treatments for oral health problems, the immediate roll out of preventive interventions is essential.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, said: “The current model of NHS dentistry is broken and not fit for purpose. Treating oral health problems requires an endless pit of money and a workforce that matches population growth. Both resources are becoming increasing scarce.

“With this in mind, we must shift our approach from treating oral health problems, to preventing them from happening at all. Oral health diseases are almost entirely preventable with the correct daily care and supportive policies.”

Dr Ben Atkins, a dentist and trustee of the Oral Health Foundation, adds: “Water fluoridation programmes, sugar-free chewing gum and supervised toothbrushing all have the potential to reduce the amount and severity of oral disease.

“Politicians and policymakers now must step-up and make radical changes to how oral health care is managed in the UK. This report highlights the positive impact just a few new interventions can make towards reducing oral disease, lowering the pressure on a dwindling NHS workforce, as well as releasing the financial burden of an NHS dental budget that has been stagnating for years.”

Triple action

  • Water fluoridation: The report suggested that rolling out water fluoridation to the 90% of the population who are not already covered in England and Wales could lead 1.2m fewer tooth extractions each year (currently there is no fluoridation in Scotland2. Last year, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities reported that water fluoridation reduced the number of children admitted to hospital for tooth extractions by up to 63 per cent.
  • Sugar-free chewing gum: The report also highlights how sugar-free chewing gum can support good oral health by encouraging saliva production, which contributes to neutralising plaque acids, maintaining tooth mineralisation and removing harmful micro-organisms. Evidence suggests that chewing sugar-free gum (containing sorbitol or xylitol) twice or three times a day can reduce the risk of tooth decay.
  • Supervised toothbrushing: The final recommendation from the report suggested that supervised toothbrushing programmes – pioneered in Scotland with Childsmile – should be used in schools or nurseries, to improve the oral health of younger children.

Tags: Oral Health Foundation

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