With waiting times to see an NHS dentist lengthening or even having a waiting time at all, the cost of living crisis (aka a greed crisis from those in power and people with enough money to end world hunger but they choose not to), and many of us being strapped for cash on a daily basis. The poverty gap is widening. This impacts oral care. Which is health care.
There is a well-established link between poverty and bad oral care. Several factors contribute to this connection:
- Limited access to dental products and services: Poverty often restricts individuals’ access to quality dental care. Many people living in poverty do not have access to dental care basics such as toothpaste, toothbrushes and floss due to the cost of living crisis and more. We also have an issue in the UK with limited NHS dentists being available, hygienists and dentists have left the profession at an extremely high rate since 2019.
- Financial constraints: Oral care can be expensive, even with an NHS dentist, especially for procedures like fillings, root canals, or orthodontic treatments. Individuals living in poverty will prioritise basic necessities like food, housing and utilities. Which is completely understandable. They may delay or avoid seeking treatment for oral health issues due to the financial burden.
- Lack of education and awareness: Poor oral health habits are more prevalent among individuals with low socioeconomic status. This can be attributed, in part, to a lack of education and awareness about the importance of oral hygiene. Which is not their fault. There could be any manner of reasons for this. This is never the individuals fault. Limited access to oral health education and preventive resources may contribute to poor oral care practices among impoverished communities.
- Dietary factors: Poverty often leads to limited food choices and reliance on inexpensive, processed, and sugary foods. Again, completely understandable, being fed and feeding your children is better than being hungry. These dietary patterns can increase the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Lack of access to nutritious foods and a balanced diet negatively impact oral health – this is a national crisis in my opinion.
- Environmental factors: Poverty is often associated with inadequate living conditions, including overcrowding, lack of proper sanitation, and limited access to clean water, yes even in the UK. It’s rare but not unheard of. Many in poverty are at the mercy of poor housing and unscrupulous landlords. These factors can contribute to the spread of oral diseases and increase the risk of dental problems.
- Psychological and emotional stress: Poverty is often accompanied by chronic stress and psychological burdens. These stressors can lead to neglect of self-care, including oral hygiene. Additionally, stress and mental health issues may increase the likelihood of teeth grinding and other habits that can damage oral health.
Addressing the link between poverty and bad oral care requires a multi-faceted approach. It involves improving access to affordable dental services, increasing oral health education and awareness, promoting preventive measures, and addressing the social determinants of health that contribute to oral health disparities. Simply telling people to brush their teeth when they are in poverty and there are so many other factors is not helpful at all. Poor oral health is not the fault of the individual.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t follow this up with addressing government, politics and the wider need for community care. Our current government is not going to help the poor feed or house themselves let alone get access to good dental care. There are promises made and promises broken every day.
Until we can vote in a general election many from all backgrounds, faiths, ethnicities and dare I say it, class, are being forgotten, left in many cases. To pull themselves up from their bootstraps when there aren’t any laces let alone boots.
If you are able, please do support local initiatives to help others. Be that with dental care, food, utilities, or a coffee with a friendly ear please do it. Your contribution means so much to people who have very little. Families, children. Just like you. If you are privileged (this is not a dirty word, we are all privileged in different ways) enough to donate to worthy causes that go straight to your local community please do.
We work alongside The Southend Care bank to get much needed hygiene products to those in need. If you want to help please donate a toothbrush via this link. All donations are matched by myself so your donation is stretched to help more people.
Thank you so much,