A quarter of patients delayed dental care due to costs, says oral health survey

26 January 2024

The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) has released the conclusions of its ‘Adult Oral Health Survey 2021’.

The questionnaire received 6,343 responses from 4,429 randomly selected households across England. The survey covered self-assessed oral health, oral health behaviours, service use, barriers to care and impacts of oral health.

Seventy-seven per cent of adults with natural teeth reported meeting the recommended twice-a-day brushing. More than half of adults (59 per cent) who brushed their teeth said they used an electric toothbrush.

The statistics also stated eight in 10 adults met the recommendation to see a dentist once every two years. However, one in 10 adults (18 per cent) admitted they only sought a dentist when they had trouble with their mouth, teeth or dentures. Four per cent of adults said they had never been to see a dentist.

Of the adults who went less than once a year, 50 per cent responded that their reason was because they believed they did not need to go. Thirty-four per cent said they could not afford the charges. Nineteen per cent said they were afraid of going to the dentist.

Two-thirds of adults said free or paid for NHS care was received at their last visit.

Private care was received by 22 per cent of adults. Of these, 32 per cent said it was to receive a higher quality of care, and 25 per cent said they were unable to find an NHS dentist. Nineteen per cent reported that their NHS dentist had ‘gone private’.

A third of adults (33 per cent) said the cost associated with the types of care or treatment affected their decisions. A further quarter said that they delayed treatment due to cost.

Nearly half of the adults (47 per cent) reported having experienced one or more impacts from their oral health on their life overall. The most commonly reported impacts were being self-conscious (28 per cent), finding it uncomfortable to eat any foods (24 per cent) and having had painful aching in their mouth (20 per cent).

The OHID said that it is important to “keep in mind that these findings related to a time during Covid-19 lockdown when access to dental services was reduced and may thus suggest a higher level of current dental problems than may otherwise have been the case.”

Eddie Crouch, British Dental Association chair, said, “For a decade, the government has squeezed NHS dentistry till the pips squeak. Patients have been hit with inflation-busting hikes to cover for cuts, while practices have been starved of investment. 

“The result is an exodus in motion from the workforce and an access crisis facing millions.”