Figures recently published by Public Health Scotland showed fewer than half (45 per cent) of adults from the most deprived areas of the country had been seen by a dentist in the past two years, while for the least deprived areas the figure was 56 per cent .
The gap is wider in children’s services, with just 55 per cent of children in the most deprived areas seen in the past two years, compared to 73 per cent in the least deprived.
Figures also showed 850,000 fewer patients had been seen in the past two years compared to 2017-2019.
Scottish Labor said the “very existence” of NHS dentistry is on the line as wealthier patients choose to be seen privately.
Health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “It is now clear that the SNP’s catastrophic failure to support Scottish NHS dentists has led to a shocking rise in dental inequality.
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“We already know that the very existence of NHS dentistry in Scotland is on the line, with the current funding model leading to privatization by the backdoor, but now we have the proof that thousands of Scots have not been seen by dentists for years.
“That those from poorer backgrounds, particularly children, are less likely to have received treatment is nothing short of a national disgrace.
“This cannot be allowed to continue.
“Humza Yousaf must wake up to the crisis facing NHS dentistry before it reaches the point of no return.
“Dental care in Scotland cannot be allowed to become the privilege of the few who can afford to go private.”
The British Dental Association said the figures from Public Health Scotland, published last week, highlighted the “devastating effect” of the Covid pandemic on dental services.
“Plummeting participation rates and the record gap in oral health inequalities present a bleak picture which will take a real commitment of time and resource to fix,” said Robert Donald of the association’s Scottish Council. “The Scottish Government needs to hear the concerns of the profession. It’s not just their signature policy of free dentistry that risks becoming unattainable.
“Failure to act risks sparking an exodus from the workforce that will leave families across Scotland losing access to NHS dentistry for good.”
The BDA has previously warned that fewer people visiting dentists will result in a higher burden of disease, and the gap in health inequalities widening even further.
A spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to tackling the pandemic-related backlog in routine dental care, and to ensuring dental teams see more patients face-to-face, including those from our most deprived communities.
“The Scottish Government has provided an additional £50 million and substantial amounts of free PPE, to ensure NHS dental services are well placed to care for the oral health of the whole population.
“From this month, we are providing dentists with an additional £20 million of increased fees. This latest package builds on £7.5 million funding for new dental drills and £5 million for ventilation improvements, which has a particular emphasis on children and tackling oral health inequalities.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.