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This Week 446: Nation's Teeth, The (1964)

Courtesy of Archbuild

Main image of This Week 446: Nation's Teeth, The (1964)
Rediffusion for ITV, tx. 23/7/1964
30 mins, black and white
DirectorJames Butler
Production CompanyRediffusion
ProducerJeremy Isaacs

A day in the life of a dentist's surgery.

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Free dental care was introduced with the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948. Prior to this, costs had been a deterrent to less well-off patients needing treatment and this was reflected in the nation's poor oral health. Severe tooth decay and resultant tooth loss was widespread and it was not uncommon for people to be edentate (without teeth).

The popularity of the NHS far surpassed government expectations and not surprisingly the provision of free dental treatment generated huge demand. Very soon the allocated resources for the delivery of the NHS proved inadequate and in 1951, as a means of raising extra revenue, charges for dental treatment and for prescriptions for medicine were introduced. This was regarded by many as a U-turn on the NHS's founding principle, that is, to offer healthcare to all free at the point of delivery. Henceforth, dental practices operated on a fee-per-item basis whereby a dentist was paid a fee by the government for each aspect of NHS care provided for a patient.

In this 1964 report, This Week (ITV, 1956-92) takes us behind the scenes of two unnamed central London dental practices to assess the current state of British dentistry. What it finds is overworked and de-motivated professionals bemoaning the pressure inflicted on them by lack of government investment in NHS dentistry. A montage of patient queues and busy treatment rooms visually substantiates their claims and conveys the programme's conclusions - that dental care in Britain needs a serious overhaul.

The programme was made in the pre-fluoride 'drill and fill' era of British dentistry. 'Two out of three children suffer from tooth decay and seven and a half million fillings are done every year', the commentary tells us. Fluoride, the wonder weapon for tooth decay, had recently been discovered and the latter part of the programme investigates the controversial plans for mass fluoridation of water supplies. Although routinely practiced by water providers since the 1960s, the practice only became mandatory under the Water Act 2003. Despite being considered a breakthrough in dentistry, fluoride had has always had its opponents - none more vehement than Ronald Goosetree, a washing machine salesman from Birmingham, who objects to what he regards as poisoning on a national scale.

Katy McGahan

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