England

Poor people 'have fewer teeth' than rich, study suggests

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Media captionThe paper suggested poor people also suffered more from tooth decay

The poorest people in society have eight fewer teeth than the richest by the time they reach their 70s, a study has suggested.

More than 6,000 people were involved in the research which showed oral health was substantially worse among the poorest 20% compared with the richest.

The paper, published in the Journal of Dental Research, showed poor people also suffered more from tooth decay.

Eight teeth is a quarter of a full adult set.

The research concluded those with lower income, lower occupational class, higher deprivation and lower educational attainment generally had the worst clinical outcomes.

Their symptoms included having more tooth decay, gum disease, gaps in their teeth and fewer teeth overall.

However, previously published research has showed the younger generation have much healthier mouths than their predecessors.

Preventing gum disease

  • Gum disease is a very common condition where the gums become swollen, sore or infected
  • It is caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth
  • Smoking and malnutrition can increase your risk
  • Mild cases of gum disease can usually be treated by maintaining a good level of oral hygiene
  • Attending regular dental check-ups can also reduce the risk
  • If you have severe gum disease, you will usually need to have further medical and dental treatment and, in some cases, surgery may need to be carried out.

Source: NHS Choices

Prof Jimmy Steele, head of the dental school at Newcastle University said: "It's probably not a big surprise that poorer people have worse dental health than the richest, but the surprise is just how big the differences can be and how it affects people.

"Eight teeth less on average is a huge amount and will have had a big impact for these people.

"From our data, it is hard to say which specific factors are driving each of the differences we are seeing here, but there is probably a real mix of reasons and it is not just about, for example, the availability of treatment."

'Urgent action needed'

Prof Richard Watt, head of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said: "Inequalities in oral health require urgent action by organisations such as Public Health England. In particular, more needs to be done to tackle the underlying causes of oral diseases."

Sydney Alcock, 68, from Washington, Tyne and Wear, lost all his teeth at a young age due to suffering from gum disease, primarily caused by poor oral hygiene.

He said: "I have had false teeth but they don't last, so losing my teeth has made a big impact on my life.

"It costs a lot of money for false teeth.

"When I was young we didn't have milk or eggs, or much other dairy. We had to eat powdered eggs.

"I'm sure that has had an impact on how good my teeth were."

Children and vulnerable targeted

Researchers from Newcastle University, University College London, Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust and the National Centre for Social Research were involved in the study which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council with data also taken from the UK Adult Dental Health Survey.

Dr Sandra White, from Public Health England, said: "We have supported local authorities to tackle this [inequality] by developing guidance focusing on improving the oral health of young people.

"We are also now developing guidance focused on supporting vulnerable adults.

"By not consuming sugary foods and drinks, brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day - especially before bed - and going to the dentist regularly you will help prevent tooth decay."

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