Research commissioned by the Oral Health Foundation found more than one-in-three (36%) Britons admit that they are sacrificing dental visits in order to keep their bank balance in check.
This figure has more than doubled in the last two years. In 2017, money worries accounted for as little as 17% of the reasons for non-attendance.
Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, is urging the government to review its decision earlier this year to increase NHS dental charges by 5%.
Dr Carter says: “The cost of visiting an NHS dentist is increasing far beyond that of inflation and pushing many of the population to breaking point.
“The decision to yet again raise the cost of check-ups will hit the poorest areas of society even harder and force even more people to avoid dental visits.
“A significant U-turn needs to take place to make NHS-provided dentistry more affordable. More and more members of the public are calling our Dental Helpline for advice on how to tackle the increasing costs and lack of accessibility to the most basic of dental services. Things have to change, and it should begin with the reviewing of dental charges.”
Further findings from the charity’s research show that younger adults are most likely to financially struggle with their oral health. Just under two-in-three (59%) 18-24-year-olds freely admit to their financial inability to look after their mouth, teeth and gums.
In recent years, younger generations have been hit hard with rising university costs, rent and housing fees and growing insurance prices. The charity fears that increasing NHS dental charges could discourage young adults from maintaining good oral health.
“The rising costs of NHS dentistry are unsustainable,” adds Dr Carter.
“Young people, families on lower incomes, and the elderly, are all at risk of being alienated. The government must be working to encourage people towards NHS dentistry, not driving them away.
“The real health risk is missing diseases and conditions at an early stage. Gum disease, tooth decay and mouth cancer can all be treated and managed if caught quickly. The consequences of late diagnosis can be life-threatening.”
The study also found that more than one-in-ten Britons (11%) admit to having no designated dentist, while just under one-in-five (16%) say they only go to the dentist when they believe they have a problem.
Cost is not the only reason behind not attending a dentist. Anxiety (22%), the fear of getting bad news (18%) and work commitments (8%), are all reasons why people stay away.
Dr Carter also expressed concern at the government’s unwillingness to commit to a sustained level of NHS dentistry funding and warned of further problems if this isn’t addressed swiftly.
Dr Carter says: “What makes this situation even more appalling is that while NHS charges for the public are increasing, investment is decreasing. NHS dentistry is dangerously underfunded and neglected by health ministers. It’s overstretched and under-equipped to effectively care for the nation’s needs.”
Net government expenditure in England on dental services has dropped by £550 million in real terms since 2010.
Over the same period, the cost of NHS dentistry has increased by more than 30%.
To view the latest NHS dental charges, visit www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/dental-health/how-much-will-i-pay-for-nhs-dental-treatment/.