Dental Services (Estimates Committee's Reports)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th July 1963.

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Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt Mr Laurie Pavitt , Willesden West 12:00 am, 12th July 1963

The opening remarks of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Hopkins), when he mentioned his trepidation at the response of his dentist to his remarks today, recalled tome one of the greatest acts of courage which I can remember. It happened in 1948, when my family dentist had his drill poised over my wife's mouth and began a diatribe against the National Health Service and, in particular, against the then Minister of Health. When my wife said that she approved of the Health Service and considered the late Aneurin Bevan to be a great man, she clutched the chair and hoped for the best as the drill was inserted.

I agree very much with the hon. Member's remarks about the service which is rendered to the House by those who serve on the Estimates and other Committees which, from time to time, put in a tremendous amount of thought and effort to give detailed attention to extremely complicated problems. If an item of payment forservice were introduced for Members of Parliament, there might, perhaps, be a little more equity in view of the terrific amount of time which is given by some hon. Members as compared, perhaps, with others who are not able to devote so much of their time to this extramural or extra-upstairs work. It is only by a Committee of that type that one is able to get to the details.

The National Health Service has so many ramifications that it is only by a Committee sitting almost day in and day out, receiving the advice of experts and questioning at great length people who have specialised knowledge of the subject, that we are able to get to grips with the problems. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) has said, the times that we are able to discuss dental health problems in the House are few and far between. I hope that now we have been able to get as far as this, discussing for the first time for many years the dental health services, we might sometime be able to look at ophthalmics.

What has emerged from the contributions to the debate so far has been stress on the importance of the way in which there should be integration between the school health service and the general dental services provided through other means.

The House will be most interested to hear from the Minister concerned why the recommendation contained in the Ninth Special Report—the recommendation which is concerned with what is perhaps the key question in this problem—has been turned down. When we examine the statistics presented by the Report we are left with a keen sense of disappointment that the declared policy of conservation in dentistry has been far from successful.

According to the figures, there was an average increase of 50 per cent. in the number of decayed, missing and filled teeth in a child of 5 between 1945 and today. We can in no way be proud of that, considering the amount of time and attention that has been devoted to this declared policy of conservation.

Perhaps even more startling is the degree to which we have failed in respect of the generation covering the age range between 18 and 28, in respect of which we should have been able to register the most progress, since a comprehensive dental health service has been in existence during the lifetime of most of these people.

A most salutary article appeared in this respect recently in the British Dental Journal, concerning research that had been carried out, with the agreement of the Army Dental Service, when 875 recruits went through a process of detailed examination in order that statistics could be prepared concerning the health of their mouths, dentistry and teeth. I do not wish to weary the House with figures, but the detailed results showed that the number of missing teeth was roughly one in five; the proportion wearing dentures upon entering the Army at the age of 18 was one in 10; the proportion of those needing dentures after their first examination in the Army was one in four and, perhaps most staggering of all, in these days of education—the proportion that had a complete lack of any oral hygiene was 51·8 per cent. More than half the people between the ages of 18 and 28, in that group of 875, did not clean their teeth.

I wonder how it is that in 1963—when even the commercial television advertisements explain why it is so important to clean one's teeth—we could have reached this situation, when we have had a comprehensive dental health service since 1948.

I welcome the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North that we should try to do something in preventive work by the extension of fluoridation.