Oral Health Charity Report Predicts Turbulent Times

Oral Health Charity Report Predicts Turbulent Times

As petrol prices climb towards £2 a litre and domestic energy bills become eye wateringly expensive, many practice owners and private Associates are nervously pondering how the cost-of-living crisis will impact on their practices and personal earnings.

Research by dental charity the Oral Health Foundation (OHF) reports that nine out of ten (94%) of UK adults have been affected by the spate of price rises and that ‘one in four, 25%, have been forced to cut back on oral health products like toothpaste, mouthwash and interdental brushes.’

The rise in the cost of living has led over half of UK adults (55%) to feel like they have neglected their teeth over the last two years with 28% saying they feel self-conscious or anxious about their smile.

It’s recognised across the profession that charges are a barrier for many people, especially those on the margins who earn too much to qualify for free treatment but not enough to be able to accommodate NHS dental charges into their living expenses.   The OHF’s research confirms that one in three, 31%, cite cost as a reason why they have not seen a dentist in over two years with one in four (25%) parents confessing to spending less on their own oral health in order look after their children’s teeth.

Encouragingly, the OHF’s statistics do suggest that oral health products are amongst the last essentials that people choose to cut back on, with big ticket items like holidays (53%) and tv subscriptions (43%) topping the list for household economies. However, twice as many households are spending less on oral health products (22%) than more (11%).

One practice owner, who did not want to be named, told GDPUK “I’ve already noticed an increase in the number of patients calling to cancel appointments. 

Traditionally, a reason for cancellation is given and the appointment is rebooked without reservation, however, recent cancellations are for undisclosed reasons with the patient declining the invitation to rebook, stating that they will ‘call back to rearrange’ at another time.  I’ve got that uneasy feeling that their cancellation is being triggered because of financial worries with a £60 hygienist appointment being sacrificed to fund half a tank of petrol.”

There is little reason to doubt the findings of the OHF’s research.  Retail sales are sliding and many market sectors are reporting low levels of consumer confidence.   Time will tell how it plays out for dentistry, a profession already racked with issues from patient access to suffocating regulation, vindictive legal claims, recruitment crises and an NHS contract that is killing off the NHS dental service.

The cost-of-living crisis will inevitably provoke some patients to postpone or cancel appointments and to attend less frequently. This will be the case whether they be private or NHS patients. Expect too that some patients on payment plans will cancel and opt to attend as fee per item on an ad hoc basis.  When they have problems in other words.

If the impact of the cost-of-living crisis does reduce patient engagement with the dental profession then there will be an increase in dental disease and this at a time when the number of dentists available to address it is at breaking point in the NHS and the very viability of some private practices, depending on location and business circumstances, will be brought into question.  

For patients, and many in the dental profession, the cost-of-living crisis risks pouring rocket fuel on what is all too often a service having to dance around too many fires.

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