Improving Dental Care and Oral Health – A Call to Action

Barry Cockcroft CBE, NHS England’s Chief Dental Officer, launches the debate about meeting the challenges of future service provision:

As someone who graduated over 40 years ago and has always had an interest in what happens beyond the walls of my own dental practice (in which I worked for over 25 years) it is a great privilege to hold the post of Chief Dental Officer for England.

Dentistry was one of the founding pillars of the NHS at its inception in 1948, and NHS dental services have made a significant contribution to the improvement in the nation’s oral health since that time. Oral health in England is amongst the best in the world and we should be proud of our achievements.

But just as in other areas of healthcare, there are concerns about the sustainability of our current model for delivering dental services in the NHS.

We have a growing population with a longer life expectancy; patients’ expectations about what “quality” care means – and when and how they receive it – are higher than they were previously; and we are operating in a climate of significant financial constraint.   In many ways our past success increases the pressures for the future.

Much has changed since I went to university in 1969. For a start, fluoride toothpaste was hard to find. At that time around 40% of the adult population had no natural teeth. This was regarded as a positive, in that good quality care was seen as removing diseased teeth – or those that were considered likely to become diseased – and replacing them with full dentures. Now our approach to maintaining good oral health is more sophisticated and patients’ expectations around avoiding tooth loss are, quite rightly, higher. Today only 4% of the adult population have no natural teeth.

And are you aware of the contribution that dentists now make in identifying people at risk of diseases such as oral cancers? One of the really interesting questions for the future is how we can extend this expertise to identifying people at risk of other long term conditions.

In launching “Improving Dental Care and Oral Health – A Call to Action” (view this content on our archived website). I want to stimulate debate about how NHS England – as commissioner for all dental services in the NHS – can develop a strategic framework for meeting the challenges that we face.

We know that access to NHS dental services could be even better; that there remain too many health inequalities; and that in some cases the patient experience could be improved. But we cannot do it alone.

We need the help of the professional bodies, front line dental teams and others including patients and the public – did you know that the two main diseases which affect dental and oral tissues are largely preventable by patients themselves through proactive self-care?

When I look back at the past achievements of NHS dentistry since 1948 I am proud of our successes, but I am equally excited about the future. We must not under-estimate the challenges facing the NHS as a whole, but this Call to Action presents us with a unique opportunity for national and local debate and I encourage you to take part through the written survey.

Barry Cockcroft

Barry Cockcroft qualified from Birmingham Dental School in 1973 and worked for 27 years in NHS general dental practice.

He was elected to the General Dental Services Committee of the British Dental Association in 1990, serving on many sub-committees and working groups before being elected vice-chairman in 2000.

He was appointed Deputy Chief Dental Officer for England in November 2002 and appointed as Chief Dental Officer in 2006.

In 2008 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Central Lancashire for his contribution to the dental profession.

He was awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours List of 2010.

A year later, Barry was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the Faculty of General Dental Practice.