The British Dental Journal/British Dental Association’s anniversary lecture took place on 2 July in London, and celebrated the 135th anniversary of the founding of the association. The occasion was marked with a thought-provoking lecture on oral health care in a changing world by Professor Jimmy Steele.
His lecture, “Oral health, epidemiology and the British way of life”, focused on the profound reduction in the prevalence of tooth decay but also pointed out the major inequalities that still exist across the UK.
Examining both ends of the age spectrum, Prof Steele highlighted that the decay experience of 15-year-olds surveyed in 1983 was over 90% but this had fallen to around 40% when the latest cohort study was carried out in 2013. Similarly, the percentage of people who were edentulous by the age of 74 fell from around 80% in 1968 to around 30% in 2008, and it is expected that this rate will continue to fall.
Steele drew attention to these trends and highlighted how these improvements have consequences for the way dentists are trained and dentists’ roles and working lives in the future. He pointed to the prevalence of sepsis and extractions in 1968, for example, as meaning a higher requirement for dentures. The situation, now, however, see relatively few dentures needing to be made by dental graduates during their training.
Inviting audience participation on the issue of whether caries could be eliminated in the future, Prof Steele concluded that this wasn’t likely. The cases of caries 15-year-olds from more deprived areas, for example, have stayed relatively consistent since 2003. He said: “Inequality appears to be getting more pronounced but we will not be able to treat away the difference.”