The chair of the BDA, Mick Armstrong, came under criticism by the Guardian this weekend for his comments on the treatment of homeless people. Armstrong referred to homeless patients as “no-hopers”, resulting in dentists potentially denying them treatment. He has since stated that despite his regrettable wording he was trying to highlight the difficulties dentists are currently experiencing and stands by the points he made.
There is no surprise that people are paying attention to these comments - the BBC reported earlier this year that homeless people are currently having to resort to extreme measures, such as pulling out their own teeth, as they don’t have access to appropriate dental care. A fact that is upsetting but seemingly unsurprising.
The homeless charity Crisis have been working since 2011 to alleviate the issue by offering free dental services over the Christmas period. They have identified that that those who have oral diseases, particularly neglected ones, can lead to people using alcohol and drugs to cope with their dental needs, creating another negative impact on their lives. Only a quarter of those that use the service claimed to have access to any other form of dental care during the rest of the year, showing just how important it is that this issue is addressed.
In the interview with the Guardian following his initial comment, Armstrong suggests that the reason homeless members of society are struggling to find appropriate dental care is due to dentists being penalised by the current NHS dental contract. He states that homeless patients are in need of time consuming treatments that can result in dentists missing targets and facing fines. Armstrong believes that there needs to be more in place to encourage and reward the treatment of vulnerable members of society to allow dental professionals to provide them with the treatment they deserve.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of positive incentives being introduced to replace financial sanctions seems unlikely, particularly with the NHS currently being under huge financial strain. The Oral Health Foundation has demanded that the dental system receives an increased budget as the current amount being allocated to the dental system from the overall NHS budget is considered by the CEO of the health charity to be a “tiny” sum.
With the resources currently on offer though there does not seem to be a straightforward solution. The NHS is struggling to fund many areas but hopefully the conversations that are happening now, along with the aid of some incredible charity work, will affect change for the homeless people of Britain.