The UK’s Dental System is confusing, say 60 per cent of adults in Wales – forcing people to use private health care or to turn to non-dental public health services out of desperation.
This is according to a new study commissioned by Orajel, the UK’s number one selling toothache brand.
With both private and public dental care on offer, even through the same practice, many patients may be turning to the private sector by default.
Sixty per cent of private care patients say they find the dental system confusing, with 21 per cent finding it very confusing, and more than a quarter do not know where they could go to get common treatments completed through public services.
But it’s not just those using private dental care who are confused about which services the NHS offers.
Over half of the adults in Wales are unaware that you can get a crown, root canal treatment, scale and polish or bridges carried-out through the NHS.
The ease of getting an appointment is the primary reason for using private dental care – more so than the quality of materials, the service, or because treatments/results last longer.
In fact, nearly half of adults in Wales do not think there is any notable difference between private and NHS dental care, and a further quarter don’t know if there are any difference at all.
Seventeen per cent of adults switched to private dental care because they wanted superior care for their teeth.
The quality of public dental care does not seem to be the problem, with nearly half of those who switched back to the NHS reporting they did so because they didn’t see the point in paying for private care.
People are more likely to switch because they feel unsatisfied with the service provided by private dentists.
While many people turn to the private sector amid this confusion, others turn to non-dental services.
The study found eight per cent of adults in Wales have visited their GP, and four per cent have attended A&E when faced with a dental problem.
Media medic and GP Dr Roger Henderson said: “We often receive patients suffering from dental problems because they are not familiar with the UK’s dental system.
“I strongly advise people to make sure they are on the best and most affordable service for them and treat any problems locally until they can get an appointment rather than visiting their GP or A&E.”
Money pledged to expand dental services in Wales represents just a quarter of the sum taken out of dental budget each year, says the British Dental Association.
Figures obtained by the BDA show that £6.6 million was taken out of the dental budget in 2016 as a result of NHS dentists not hitting the tough targets set by government in their contracts.
This money, known as ‘clawback’, is not reallocated to NHS dental services in Wales.
The Welsh Government has announced it will commit £1.3m to fund the expanded dental services. Undisclosed sums have been allocated to strengthen paediatric services.
While the BDA welcomes extra investment in dental services, particularly those geared towards children, it has insisted that all clawback money be ringfenced to support oral health services.
Despite the progress secured through initiatives such as Designed to Smile, tooth decay remains the leading reason for child hospital admissions in Wales.
Katrina Clarke, chairman of the BDA’s Welsh General Dental Practice Committee, said: “Year in, year out money allocated to NHS dentistry has been used to balance the Welsh Government’s books. While we welcome commitments to spend the dental budget on dentistry, this money represents just a quarter of what’s been taken out of the system each year.
“Creative accounting does not constitute new investment.
“The best thing the Welsh Government could do is commit to ensure all money set aside for dentistry is actually spent on improving the oral health of children and adults in Wales.”
Despite the criticisms, the BDA has also welcomed news child tooth decay has fallen once again among children in poorer communities across Wales – and urged Whitehall to follow the Welsh Assembly Government’s example.
A new report from Public Health Wales reveals the proportion of children with decay in Wales fell from 47.6 per cent in 2007-08 to 34.2 per cent in 2015-16, with a 38 per cent fall recorded in the number of children with decayed, missing and filled teeth.
Improvements were particularly marked among children in deprived communities, who saw the largest reduction in decay prevalence.
Wales has run the successful national programme ‘Designed to Smile’ offering targeted support, supervised brushing in schools and nurseries, alongside oral health education and promotion since 2009. England has no equivalent programme.
England has extreme oral health inequalities, with a child born in Blackburn nearly seven times more likely to experience decay than one in Surrey.
The BDA called on all UK parties to follow the lead of devolved governments in the run up to the 2017 General Election. It has also called on the Welsh Government to build on its success by making the scheme compulsory and extending it to nurseries for children under three.
BDA chairman Mick Armstrong said: “Wales is reaping the benefits of a dedicated strategy to drive down childhood decay. In England children have been offered little more than a few soundbites.
“Tooth decay is the leading reason for hospital admissions among children in all parts of Britain. While Ministers in Whitehall are shrugging their shoulders, their opposite numbers in Cardiff Bay are showing just what’s possible.
“The Welsh Government must build on the success of this initiative. We hope authorities in England are taking note.”
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