Dentists have warned that there are “scandalous” dental health inequalities across the country.
Experts say the gap between people’s tooth and gum hygiene in the north and south is likely to widen because of the pandemic.
They say the cumulative impact of sugar-rich lockdown diets, poor access to care and the suspension of public health programmes (many operated via schools) will come at a terrible cost to both adults and children in our most deprived communities.
Nationally, NHS dentists performed 9.3 million fillings and fissure sealants on adults and 3.6 million on children across England in 2019/20.
The works out as 209 fillings and fissure sealants performed for every 1,000 adults in the country, and 301 for every 1,000 children.
The figures suggest Middlesbrough in the North East has the worst problem with rotten teeth overall, with 38,696 fillings and fissure sealants performed on adults last year, and 14,495 on children.
That works out as 358 of these procedures for every 1,000 adults in the area, and 442 for every 1,000 children.
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Also making it into the top five areas with the highest rates were South Tyneside in the North East, Barnsley in Yorkshire, Blackburn with Darwen in the North West and Doncaster in Yorkshire.
Meanwhile, Richmond upon Thames in London has the lowest rate, with 13,930 procedures performed on adults and 9,614 on children – a rate of just 92 for every 1,000 adults and 210 for every 1,000 kids.
Other areas with particularly low rates included Wokingham in the South East, and Camden, Kensington and Chelsea, and Wandsworth in London.
It’s possible that some of the regional divide may be due to a higher prevalence of private dentists in the south compared to the north.
Unfortunately, figures on the number of procedures performed by private dentists are not publicly available.
There may also be some differences in local public health programmes.
Despite this, experts say the figures speak to deep levels of inequality that are now expected to widen.
Eddie Crouch, chair of the British Dental Association, said: “Even before COVID this country had scandalous dental health inequalities.
“For far too long decay – a wholly preventable disease – has gone unchallenged as the number one reason for child hospital admissions, and that burden has fallen squarely on families in our most deprived communities.
“Now the gap between rich and poor, north and south now looks set to widen.
“Access to services has fallen off a cliff, and we are no closer to a return to ‘business as usual’. Ministers need to support practices and offer real investment in prevention if we are going to avoid an oral health crisis.”