Labour has announced it wants to scrap certain dentistry charges if it wins the election, which would make it free to get a check-up and get other basic services. These “band one” charges currently cost £22.70.
Jeremy Corbyn trailed the policy over the weekend saying one in five patients delay going to the dentist because of cost, leaving 100,000 people in hospital with preventable problems with their teeth.
The one in five figure is accurate, but it is also significantly out of date and needs some context. It’s also not possible to link dental costs to 100,000 hospital admissions, as he does.
The one in five claim is what the Adult Dental Health Survey found in late 2009/10. 19% of respondents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland said they had delayed dental treatment at some point in their lives because of the cost. The question was asked both of people who used NHS dental care and those who used private dental care.
Why such out of date figures? That survey only happens every 10 years, so it means we can’t be certain Labour’s “one in five” figure is still accurate in 2019.
Just over 100,000 hospital admissions in England in 2018/19 were related to tooth decay, and another 17,000 to gum disease. These aren’t necessarily all different people, as one person can have multiple admissions for similar ailments.
Mr Corbyn goes on to connect all these cases directly to people not being able to afford dental care. This isn’t substantiated by the data, which can’t tell us the circumstances behind those admissions to hospital.
The Adult Dental Health Survey did find a link between delaying dental care over cost reasons and poor dental health, however.
The 2011 report on the survey says: “42 per cent of adults with bad or very bad self-reported dental health said that the decision to delay dental treatment was affected by cost, compared with 27 per cent of adults who said that their dental health was fair, and 14 per cent of adults with good or very good self-reported dental health.” More adults with tooth decay also reported delaying dental care over cost than those with no tooth decay.