Danes’ oral health has improved but social inequalities have not changed

University of Copenhagen

Danish oral health has improved; so a large study of the Danes’ oral health the past 30 years concludes. However, the researchers stress that when it comes to oral and dental health, the country is still characterised by great inequalities.

Open mouth full of teeth
(Photo: Colourbox)

The past 30 years, adult Danes have generally managed to save more of their natural teeth, which has positively affected their quality of life. Moreover, they have paid more visits to the dentist, new research conducted by the Department of Odontology of the University of Copenhagen and the National Institute of Public Health at the University of Southern Denmark shows.

‘The number of Danes who suffer from complete loss of natural teeth is significantly lower today than it was in 1987, and people now go to the dentist more often to prevent oral health problems. This is the positive result of our study: that the Danes’ oral health has improved significantly’, says the researcher behind the study, Professor Emeritus Poul Erik Petersen from the Department of Odontology.

The researchers have analysed the development in dentate status and preventive dental visits in the adult population the past 30 years.

About the study

Seven times between 1987 and 2017, dental health information has been collected from representative samples of the Danish population.

For the population in general, complete loss of natural teeth has dropped from 18 to three per cent.

Among Danes aged 65-74 years, toothlessness has dropped from 51 per cent in 1987 to six per cent in 2017.

Among Danes aged 65-74 years, the share with a functional set of natural teeth (20 teeth or more) has increased from 16 to 69 per cent.

Among Danes aged 65-74 years, 29 per cent went to the dentist once a year in 1987. In 2013, the figure had increased to 79 per cent.

Among young adults aged 25-44 years, the share who went to the dentist for oral and dental check-ups was 88 per cent in 1987. In 2013, the figure had dropped to 61 per cent.

In 2017, 85 per cent of all adult Danes went to preventive dental visits. While younger adults often expressed going to the dentist of intervals up to 18 months between visits, senior citizens typically expressed going to the dentist more often with less than 12 months between visits.

‘Seven times in the period 1987-2017, representative samples of the adult Danish population have answered a questionnaire on health, healthcare and background information. These surveys have also compiled information about their dentate status and dental visits’, says Senior Advisor Ola Ekholm from the National Institute of Public Health.

Improved dentate status

In the population as a whole, toothlessness has dropped dramatically from 18 to three per cent. The trend is widespread mainly among senior citizens’, Poul Erik Petersen explains.

‘The improvement is especially evident among citizens aged 65-74 years. In 1987, half of them suffered from toothlessness; today, it is true of merely six per cent. Similarly, the share of adults who have managed to keep at least 20 of their natural teeth has increased from 16 to 69 per cent’, he says.

‘There are many reasons why dentate status of Danes has improved throughout the past 30 years: a general increase in living standards, a healthier lifestyle, a general drop in tobacco consumption, legislation on dental care, participation in the municipal preventive dental care programmes for children and youth, a strengthening of tooth-preserving treatment at dentists, the introduction of preventive adult dental care and, not least, better oral hygiene through the use of toothpaste containing fluorides’, Poul Erik Petersen says.

Senior citizens go to the dentist more often

Adult Danes go to the dentist more often than they used to. In 1987, less than a third of senior citizens went to the dentist once a year, but in 2013, the figure had increased to 79 per cent.

‘In return, there is a negative trend among young adults, where the share that go to the dentist once a year has dropped from 88 to 61 per cent’, Poul Erik Petersen points out.

Unchanged social inequalities

Unfortunately, the researchers can also paint a negative picture of the Danes’ dental health the past 30 years.

‘The downside is that the social inequalities in dental health and health in general have not changed the past 30 years. For instance, people’s dental health largely depends on their level of education, occupation, financial status and ethnic background’, Poul Erik Petersen explains.

In 2017, only 32 per cent of adult Danes with significant financial difficulties received preventive dental care. Among adult Danes with some financial difficulties the figure was 43 per cent – compared to 62 per cent among Danes with no financial difficulties.

Poul Erik Petersen stress that the new findings highlight the need for socio-political actions if we are to improve the dental health of all Danes across social backgrounds.

Read the entire study: ‘Trends in dentate status and preventive dental visits of the adult population in Denmark over 30 years (1987-2017)’

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