Urgent action is needed to tackle Scotland’s “oral disease epidemic” as rates of mouth cancer soared above other UK nations, leading dentists have warned.
Official figures show cancer rates are significantly higher in Scotland at 16.8 per 100,000 people, compared with 12.4 in England, and 11.9 in Northern Ireland.
More needs to be done to help vulnerable older people and children, as youngsters living in the poorest parts of Scotland are 20 per cent more likely to have visible tooth decay than their more affluent peers, according to The British Dental Association Scotland (BDA Scotland).
NHS data reveals that problems triggered by tooth decay are the number one reason Scottish children are admitted to hospital.
The dentists’ leaders also warned that a shortage of oral specialists and surgeons is leading to delays in treatment.
Adrian Hart, chairman of the BDA’s Scottish Council, said: “We are facing an oral disease epidemic, and the next government has to decide whether it’s willing to step up and make a stand.
“Scotland has been topping the league tables on oral cancer. If spotted early survival rates can reach 90 per cent, but delay is costing lives.”
He called for the expansion of a government scheme which offers free toothbrushes and supervised brushing to children aged under five.
The number of children in primary one with no obvious decay rose from 54 per cent in 2006 to 68 per cent in 2014 – while dental treatment costs in Scotland have fallen by £5 million a year.
Mr Hart said: “The initiative is currently saving baby teeth and a fortune in treatment costs. Extending this scheme to cover five to 12-year-olds means we can start saving permanent teeth and take more pressure off a cash-strapped service.”
Ensuring patients in nursing homes are registered with a dentist could help to meet the complex needs of older patients, he added.
The SNP said: “Under the SNP the number of people in Scotland registered with a dentist has increased by nearly two million – a fantastic 82 per cent increase since 2007.
“Ninety-three per cent of children are now registered – and this rate remains high across all sections of society and all across the country.
“If re-elected we will continue to work on this progress and ensure that dental healthcare in Scotland continues to improve.”