With NHS dentistry at a tipping point in the UK, how can retailers step into the breach to underpin consumers’ oral health?

The UK’s NHS dentistry service is facing a crisis, with the past two years seeing unprecedented levels of pressure on dental healthcare. Following on from the Covid-19 pandemic, figures show that 90% of dental practices are unable to take on new adult NHS patients1.

The British Dental Association (BDA) is calling on the government to deliver urgent reform, with its latest data underlining the need for radical change in the system. Just 34% of adults accessed NHS dental care from March 2020 to March this year, with children seen in the last year at 44.8%, it reveals2. Those figures compare to 49.6% for adults and 58.7% for children in the last full year prior to the pandemic2.

What’s more, in 2021-22, just two-thirds of the average volumes of dentist treatment were delivered annually in the five years prior to the pandemic2

Shawn Carlwood, chair of the BDA’s dental practice committee, said: “NHS dentistry is at a tipping point, with millions unable to get the care they need and more dentists leaving with every day that passes. We’re seeing the results of years of chronic neglect, set into overdrive by the pressures of the pandemic3.” The question now is how can retailers and suppliers alike play their part before it’s too late.

Dental crisis for adults

Based on a 2022 sample survey across the UK, 71% respondents with gum conditions also claimed to have sensitive teeth and 20% reported having bad breath4. To put it another way, only 17% of UK adults do not show signs of gum problems5.

The BDA estimates that the backlog of NHS dental appointments – with over a year’s worth lost since lockdown – will take years to clear, particularly as patients are now presenting higher levels of need6.

Earlier this year, NHS England announced a £50m investment aimed at taking the dental industry back to its pre-pandemic levels of servicing7. However, the BDA believes this time-limited package is only the start of rebuilding NHS dentistry and tackling the patient backlog.


So how can grocery retailers help?

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“With so many shoppers finding it challenging to get regular access to oral healthcare professionals, it has never been more important for retailers to offer consumers a wide range of self-care options. When it comes to helping consumers to maintain healthy gums and teeth, there is an untapped opportunity for them to step into the breach – and thereby boost oral care product consumption,” says Jon Lewis, GB sales director at Haleon. “It is vitally important that, as an industry, we are encouraging shoppers to take a proactive interest in their own health, first and foremost, so that they are aware of the benefits of a good dental health regime and why it is so important.” 

Retailers can offer shoppers great advice on maintaining good oral hygiene and the important role it plays in people’s overall wellbeing. Retailers can also play a valuable role in communicating the benefits of oral self-care to shoppers in-store. Additional signage in the form of POS and displays can help to prompt greater awareness of the importance of good dental health, and how certain products can help to tackle specific oral health problems.

Meanwhile, with its Sensodyne, Corsodyl, Pronamel and Aquafresh ranges, Haleon, formerly part of GSK, is focused on meeting every consumer need when it comes to oral healthcare.

The company – formerly GSK Consumer Healthcare – has seen demand for consumer self-care grow through the uplift in sales of its Corsodyl toothpaste range (+19.4% percentage change 4 weeks YA to 12.08.228), helping to fuel growth in a toothpaste category, which is growing by 3.7%8 in the same time period. Earlier this year the company launched its new Corsodyl Gum + Breath & Sensitivity toothpaste range to help consumers tackle gum problems and bad breath while helping to protect sensitive teeth. Its Stannous Floride & Zinc formulation helps to remove bacterial plaque, while its Pro-Neutra technology works to neutralise bacteria that cause bad breath.

For Sensodyne, the No. 1 dentist recommended toothpaste brand for sensitive teeth9, the Novamin technology in Sensodyne Repair & Protect forms a protective layer over the sensitive areas of the teeth, providing deep repair within the dentine tubules of sensitive teeth. With twice daily brushing, it is clinically proven for long-lasting protection against dentine hypersensitivity.

Helping to protect tooth enamel, a key line of defence in oral health, Sensodyne Pronamel is clinically proven to help strengthen enamel by actively repairing acid-weaken enamel surfaces for strong and healthy teeth.

Protecting children’s oral health

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The crisis in oral healthcare is highlighted even more when it comes to children. Research shows that over 1m parents have never taken their kids to the dentist10 and almost nine out of 10 hospital extractions among children aged 0 to 5 years are due to preventable tooth decay, with tooth extraction also the most common hospital procedure in 6- to 10-year-olds11. In fact, the cost to the NHS of treating oral conditions is around £3.4bn per year11.

The figures are alarming. Yet tooth decay could be prevented by cutting down on sugar, as well as brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste, notes Haleon’s Lewis.

Aquafresh is on a continuous mission to help end dental poverty, says Lewis. The Aquafresh Shine Bright Campaign12 is rooted in the fact that children’s oral health in the UK is in a crisis and seeks to empower families by providing schools and parents/guardians with the right support for children to learn healthy habits for their teeth, both at school and at home.

The campaign:

  • Works with schools across the UK to help teach children about the importance of brushing their teeth and how to do it with fun and engaging activities.
  • Is launching a nationwide competition to help children get creative while learning about taking care of their teeth.
  • Is partnering with the Dental Wellness trust to bring product and free check-ups to those who need it most in 2023.

To find out more about Haleon and its campaign to encourage better self-care in oral health, please visit Our Consumer Healthcare Brands | Haleon

1 https://www.bda.org/news-centre/press-releases/Pages/Crisis-in-dentistry-New-PM-Chancellor-and-Health-Secretary-must-act-now.aspx (last accessed November 2022)
2 https://bda.org/news-centre/latest-news-articles/Pages/England-NHS-dental-statistics-show-a-service-on-its-last-legs.aspx (last accessed November 2022)
3 https://bda.org/news-centre/press-releases/Pages/nhs-dentistry-at-a-tipping-point.aspx (last accessed November 2022)
4The Health Hub Survey, UK, March 2022, n. 1012 respondents across GB.
5 Executive summary: Adult Dental Health Survey 2009: https://files.digital.nhs.uk/publicationimport/pub01xxx/pub01086/adul-dent-heal-surv-summ-them-exec-2009-rep2.pdf (last accessed February 2022)
https://bda.org/news-centre/press-releases/Pages/Urgent-action-needed-as-millions-miss-out-on-NHS-dentistry.aspx (last accessed November 2022)
British Dental Association, England: Funding boost for NHS dentistry is only part of the solution, https://bda.org/news-centre/latest-news-articles/Pages/England-Funding-boost-for-NHS-dentistry-is-only-part-of-the-solution.aspx (last accessed November 2022)
Nielsen, Total Coverage, Value Sales (’000), % change 4 wks to 13.08.22 vs YA
9 Expert Performance Tracking 2022 - UK Claim Letter - Sensodyne - No.1 Dentist Recommended Brand, IPOS GmBH, n=200
10 Dental Wellness Trust’s Parent Survey 2019 and ONS 2019
11 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/child-oral-health-applying-all-our-health/child-oral-health-applying-all-our-health (last accessed November 2022)
12 https://nationalschoolspartne rship.com/initiatives/aquafre sh-shine-bright-2022/