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News / January 30, 2008

Poor diet to blame for high levels of dental decay in Northern Ireland

by Guy Hiscott

Ulster has the worst rate of dental decay in Ireland and the UK, despite having the highest number of dentists.

Donncha O’Carolan, acting chief dental officer for Northern Ireland, says the problem will only be overcome when people improve their diets and regularly brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste.

However, he believes the problem of dental decay will be majorly decreased by introducing fluoride into the Northern Ireland water system, which has been heralded a major success in the Republic. According to Mr O’Carolan, the suggestion has been met with huge political opposition and so there is no plan at present to fluoridate the water. ‘Before the south of Ireland fluoridated their water their dental decay rates were worse than ours and now they are far, far better,’ Mr O’Carolan said.

Based on 2006/2007 National Health Service statistics, Northern Ireland currently has 48 dentists per 100,000 population, followed by Scotland with 41 dentists per 100, 000. In comparison England has 30 dentists per 100,000 population and Wales with just 21 dentists per 100,000 population.

However, Mr O’Carolan argues that the high dental disease levels in Northern Ireland are related to lifestyle and deprivation and not connected with access to dental services.