A leading charity has expressed concerns over access to oral healthcare in Scotland, as new research reveals an estimated 216,000 of the country’s residents are facing a 40-mile round-trip to be seen by a dentist.
An investigation by the Oral Health Foundation also shows almost one in four (23 per cent) could live further than ten miles away from their current dental practice, raising severe concerns about access for those in rural areas, the elderly and those who suffer with mobility difficulties.
The oral health charity is now urging the government to urgently address issues such as geographical isolation, the growing elderly population, lack of adequate transport and provider shortages.
Dr Nigel Carter OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, believes the continual cuts made to dentistry have created greater barriers and inequalities and is urging the government to make a commitment to prioritise the basic health needs of these marginalised groups.
Dr Carter said: “Access to adequate oral healthcare continues to be a persistent issue in the UK. With fewer dental health professionals in rural areas, people in these areas are having to travel further to obtain a relatively simple dental check-up.
“Even up to a few years ago we had oral health promotional (OHP) teams dotted across the country who would go out and visit such communities and provide dental care to a range of groups who would otherwise have found it difficult to access care.
“Unfortunately, provisions for these OHP teams have been cut back severely in recent years, leaving many people to look for alternatives. As these alternatives are not always practical it sadly leaves many simply going without.”
In other concerns about the growing distance needed to travel for dental care, more than six million people living in the UK have mobility impairments while by 2043 it is estimated that one in four (25 per cent) will be aged 65 or older.
Dr Ben Atkins, Trustee at the Oral Health Foundation and dentist, says as these groups have specific oral health needs, regular access to dental care becomes even more critical.
Dr Atkins said: “We cannot afford for the needs of people with disabilities and the elderly to be ignored any longer. It is also important to remember these groups experience greater difficulties with self-care at home, as decreased mobility of the hands or arms, even eyesight, can lead to ineffective brushing and increased risk of dental disease.
“Older people will also find their gums may recede and the teeth may become more sensitive. Others who take regular medication which makes their mouth dry, which is a problem because saliva is important in helping to protect the teeth against decay.
“A commitment must be made to redeploy OHP teams into communities in rural areas across the UK so these groups are able to access the provisions they need – oral health is as much about retaining a person’s dignity as it is a requirement of good health.”