People should be given advice on healthy eating or alcohol consumption during trips to the dentist, a new report suggests.
Dentists are “perfectly placed” to deliver health promotion and prevention advice to their patients, according to new report from the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation.
They could deliver advice on healthy eating, alcohol consumption and giving up smoking, it states.
The new report on the state of NHS dentistry in England suggests that health officials have “missed” an opportunity to include dentists in wider ill-health prevention plans.
Including dentists in these plans could see improvements in the nation’s dental health as well as driving down cases of obesity and diabetes, they added.
Meanwhile the analysis found drastic differences between the north and south of England when it comes to good dental health. There is also a big divide between the rich and the poor.
The authors said that while significant improvements have been made in the nation’s dental health, this progress risks stalling unless action is taken to drive down inequalities.
Findings from the analysis include:
:: People from the most deprived backgrounds were twice as likely (14%) to be admitted to hospital for dental work than those that were better off (7%) in 2015.
:: 18% of parents with children eligible for free school meals found it difficult to find an NHS dentist in 2013, compared with 11% of parents whose children were not.
:: 83% of five-year-olds in the richest regions of the country had healthy teeth, compared with 70% in the poorest parts in 2014/15.
But the authors also celebrated some improvements including the proportion of adults without any teeth reaching an all-time low.
And the proportion of young children with tooth decay is on the decline.
Report author and Nuffield Trust director of research, Professor John Appleby, said: “As a nation our dental health is improving, but it is shocking that your income or where you live can still determine your dental health, how likely you are to be hospitalised with dental problems and how easily you can access the dental treatment you need.
“We know that poor oral health is linked to other health problems, like obesity, alcohol consumption and smoking. So it makes sense to involve dentists more in plans across the NHS to address these problems.
“But unless more efforts are made to tackle the inequalities we identify and embed prevention of ill health across dentistry, the progress made over the past few decades in improving the nation’s oral health could stall.”
The report makes a number of recommendations including improving access to dentists among the most deprived and supporting research to better understand the impact of dental health interventions.
Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chairman of general dental practice at the British Dental Association, said: “These divides between North and South, rich and poor, expose the myth of universal access to NHS dentistry.
“We have a discredited system that funds dental care for barely half the population and the patients that lose out are all too often the ones that need us most.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Improving oral health, particularly in children, is a key priority for this Government and we want everyone to be able to access an NHS dentist wherever they are.
“NHS England’s Starting Well programme is working in 13 areas across the country, specifically targeting children who are not visiting a dentist, to prevent poor oral health.”