Report reveals over a quarter of adults have asked their dentist about general health problems

03 November 2023

Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, has released the findings of its annual ‘Oral Healthcare Report’. Collected from over 5,000 consumers in the UK who used both NHS and private dentists, the report offers a comprehensive view of attitudes and habits in dentistry.

The survey shows that a quarter (25 per cent) of Brits that visit the dentist have seen the same dentist for the last ten years, with two-thirds (66 per cent) of people reporting consistency meant they felt comfortable with their dentist and 91 per cent of people who attend the dentist at least every two years saying it’s important to trust your dentist. 

Over half (51 per cent) of people say their entire family sees the same dentist. Six in ten (60 per cent) say they would not consider changing dental practices because they want to keep their current dentist. 

Despite dentists’ valued role in society, the UK faces a crisis with people struggling to access dental services, both the Conservative and Labour parties acknowledge that further reform is needed on the current NHS dental contract.

With dentists being one of the more regular points of contact for patients, their role in wider health is apparent. The survey reveals three in ten (28 per cent) have spoken to their dentist about other health problems, and 15 per cent of respondents have had dentists refer them to another health practitioner during their appointment. Of those that were referred, 20 per cent were diagnosed with skin conditions, 15 per cent with iron-deficiency (anaemia), 10 per cent with diabetes and a further 10 per cent with a viral condition (e.g. herpes).

Shamir Chandarana, principal dentist at Dental House, Sunbury-on-Thames, said, “As a dentist, you’re privileged to have the chance to truly get to know patients and their families. Many of us have supported patients far beyond just their dental needs - whether being able to advise on common health conditions, simply listen to their current concerns, or refer them to another healthcare professional.

“At a time when GP appointments are increasingly difficult to come by, my colleagues and I have definitely noticed an uptick in wider healthcare questions - a role that would have traditionally been played by the family doctor. We can help to identify other health conditions, but then need to refer patients on for any symptoms to be managed properly.” 

The survey also identified that almost a third (32 per cent) of people worry about the cost of going to a dentist, with over a third (34 per cent) of respondents saying they have previously postponed or cancelled a dentist appointment because they could not afford it. However, healthcare professionals advocate taking a preventative approach to oral health and seeing a dentist for examinations rather than waiting until problems get worse.  

Those with a private dental payment plan set up said they’d chosen this option because it gave them peace of mind (30 per cent) or helped them to be more proactive about their oral health (26 per cent).

Whereas putting off going to the dentist could see people end up paying more for emergency dental treatment, those with a private payment plan said it helped spread the cost of their treatments (42 per cent) and budget for dental costs (36 per cent). 

Catherine Rutland, a dentist and clinical director at Denplan, said, “Our survey demonstrates the vital role of the dentist in public life, with over a quarter (28 per cent) of adults saying they have asked their dentist about problems other than their oral health and a majority (59 per cent) saying they actually see the same dentist more often than their doctor.

“However, dentists are already stretched, and this growing shift of the wider healthcare burden is indicative of the mounting pressure on health services.

“Dental services often play second fiddle to primary healthcare in policy, but they’re servicing the same communities with the same needs and identifying problems. To keep communities healthy, there needs to be a joined-up approach to the way that dentistry is viewed within healthcare and government.

“When considering how best to improve access to dentistry, we must not consider the reform of the NHS contract in isolation. We must also recognise the role of mixed and private practices in communities and wider initiatives such as making better use of the wider dental team to carry out a range of services.”