Biggest adult dental health survey in 10 years published

Biggest adult dental health survey in 10 years published

26 Jan 2011

Published on December 8 2010, the 2009 Adult Dental Health Survey provides a snapshot of dental health across England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Around 6,500 adults across the three nations had their teeth examined as part of the Survey, which is the fifth in its series and have been carried out every 10 years since 1968.

According to the Survey, a greater percentage of adults in Wales have dental problems than in England, despite more of the Welsh population seeing a dentist regularly. Although dental health has improved overall in Wales, England and also in Northern Ireland, a greater percentage of the Welsh population have no natural teeth, not enough teeth to eat comfortably, and a greater degree of decay. 

Survey results

The results found:

• One in 10 in Wales have no natural teeth, compared to around one third in 1978. In England, the equivalent 2009 figure is around one in 17, compared to three in 10 in 1978 (from 28 per cent in 1978 to 6 per cent in 2009). In Northern Ireland, it’s around one in 14, compared to one third in 1978. 

• In England, 86 per cent of respondents have functional dentition, compared to 74 per cent in 1978. In Wales, the equivalent 2009 figure is 80 per cent, compared to 71 per cent in 1978. In Northern Ireland, it’s now 84 per cent, compared to 68 per cent in 1979. The average number of teeth among all dentate adults was 25.6.

• In England and Northern Ireland, about six in 10 adults have regular dental check-ups, compared to around four in 10 in England in 1978 and four in 10 in Northern Ireland in 1988 (the first time this figure was collected in Northern Ireland). In Wales, the figure is nearly seven in 10 adults compared to just under four in 10 in 1978.

The Survey also revealed that across all three countries overall: People from managerial and professional households have a better level of oral health; 91 per cent have 21 or more natural teeth (the number required to eat comfortably), compared to 85 per cent from intermediate occupation households and 79 per cent from routine and manual occupation households; and 12 per cent of adults who have ever been to the dentist have extreme dental anxiety about the situation. This was most common among younger age groups, women and people from households at the lower end of the socio-economic scale. 

Commenting on the results, NHS Information Centre, chief executive, Tim Straughan, said, “This Survey shows dental health has improved in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the condition of people’s teeth overall has got much better since this survey was first carried out. 

“However, it does show there is variation in dental health between England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as in the percentage of our populations who see a dentist regularly. The Survey also suggests that more than one in 10 of us are extremely anxious about being in the dentists’ chair.” 

Positive responses

The British Dental Association (BDA) has given a positive reception to the continuing improvements seen in adults’ oral health. 

The BDA’s Scientific Adviser, Professor Damien Walmsley, said in response, “This survey confirms that the condition of people’s teeth overall has got much better since this survey was first carried out. Fluoride toothpaste, greater awareness of the importance of a healthy diet and regular visits to the dentist have all undoubtedly contributed to the better dental health we see in adults today.

“While the growing number of patients retaining more of their teeth into later life is, of course, excellent news, this improvement brings its own challenges. The way that teeth are cared for will need to evolve to ensure that these challenges are met.”

However, the report also confirms, again, the relationship between low socio-economic status and poorer oral health. Professor Walmsley continued, “Depressingly, this report also confirms what we know about the strong link between social deprivation and poor oral health. Addressing this must be a priority for the UK’s governments.” 

A Department of Health spokesperson added, “Even though there have been improvements in adults’ oral health, there is more that can and should be done to tackle persistent inequalities. 

“As set out in the NHS White Paper, we are committed to introducing a new dental contract to improve the quality of care and address the issue of access. We have set up a national steering group to drive this work forward, with the aim of publishing pilot proposals before the end of the year.” 

Further detailed reports  

The findings represent the preliminary results from the 2009 Survey. A series of more detailed reports are due to be published in March 2011. 

Commissioned by the NHS Information Centre for health and social care, and conducted on behalf of the Department of Health in England, the Welsh Assembly Health Department, and the Department of Health and Personal Social Services in Northern Ireland, the Survey consisted of a questionnaire interview with all adults aged over 16 years at all sampled households, and an oral examination of the mouth and teeth of all those adults who had at least one natural tooth. 

The Survey was managed by the Office for National Statistics, working in consortium with the National Centre for Social Research, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, and dental experts from the Universities of Birmingham, Cardiff, Dundee, Newcastle, and University College London. 

The sample size for the survey was 13,400 households (1,150 in each English Strategic Health Authority and Wales, and 750 households in Northern Ireland). Data collection for the Survey took place between October 2009 and April 2010, and the final household interview response rate was 60 per cent. 

Largest epidemiological survey  

A total of 11,380 individuals were interviewed, and 6,469 dentate adults were examined, making this the largest ever epidemiological survey of adult dental health in the UK. The main purpose of these surveys is to get a picture of the dental health of the adult population and how this has changed over time. 

The aims of the survey were to: 

• Establish the condition of the natural teeth and supporting tissues. 

• Investigate dental experiences, knowledge about and attitudes towards dental care and oral hygiene. 

• Examine changes over time in dental health, attitudes and behaviour. 

• Monitor the extent to which dental health targets set by the Government are being met. 

This report covered the following topics: 

• Loss of all natural teeth. 

• Functional dentition.  

• Summary of tooth condition. 

• Sound and untreated teeth. 

• Restored, otherwise sound teeth. 

• Decayed or unsound teeth. 

• Decay on the crowns of the teeth. 

• Regular dental attendance. 

• Levels of dental anxiety.

 For full results, visit