BDA Scotland has expressed deep concerns as new data shows attendance from patients in Scotland's most deprived communities has fallen to record lows relative to their more affluent peers.
While registration in Scotland has reached record levels (94.2%) data from the NHS Scotland Information Services Division show the actual attendance gaps for both adults and children have trebled in the past 10 years, and have reached an all-time high. Among adults, 62.2% of those in the poorest areas had seen their dentist in the last 2 years, compared to 72.7% of those in the most affluent neighbourhoods. Among children, the figures were 79.8% and 89.2%.
An attendance gap of 9 points for children and 10 percentage points adults has opened up, both rising from just 3 percentage points in 2008. Adults on lower incomes are actually more likely to be registered with an NHS dentist than their wealthier counterparts, at 97.5% compared to 88.6%. But the widening gap in attendance is deeply concerning.
The BDA has been leading calls for the Scottish government to do more to boost participation among adults in deprived areas – particularly to halt the rise of oral cancer through early detection. Every year oral cancer kills 3 times as many Scots as car accidents, with an estimated annual cost to NHS Scotland of over £65 million.
Robert Donald, chair of the BDA's Scottish Council said: "Year on year the Scottish Government has attempted to hide behind positive sounding registration numbers. But these figures are based on 'lifetime registration', and nothing can conceal the gap that's now opened between rich and poor when it comes to attendance.
"The people missing out on appointments are precisely those we most need to see.
Residents in Scotland's most deprived communities are more than twice as likely to develop and die from oral cancer, and early detection is key.
"We've had enough of official press releases boasting about how many patients are getting onto our books. The priority has to be a plan to get hard to reach patients people into our chairs."