As high as 38% of the Belgian population do not visit a dentist once a year!
Every five years the Belgian scientific institute on public health conducts a health information survey. The most recent report covers the period 2008-2013 and was published in 2015. For the 2013 report, 10 567 respondents were questioned (N = 10 567), of which 48% men and 52% women. Age-wise the population is well-balanced, and respondents are at least two years old. Respondents under 15 were questioned by proxy.
Although it is very important that people do so, the health information survey shows that on average only 62% of people visit a dentist at least once a year.
Dental care has its own place in the healthcare landscape, as it concerns care of a technical nature which can hardly be replaced by selfcare, medication or health apps. The role of dentists are thus crucial from a public health perspective. This means that dentists should be easily accessible to all population groups.
How many times a year should we visit the dentist ideally?
It is very important that people visit the dentist at least once a year. The benefits of a yearly check-up are scientifically proven in view of good oral hygiene.
But as to what periodicity of check-up is adequate, there are no evidence-based guidelines. E.g., it’s not been demonstrated that going to the dentist twice year significantly improves oral hygiene. The number of visits a person should pay to his or her dentist, heavily differs from one person to another.
In other words, we cannot rely on averages of populations. Instead, a highly personalized approach is strongly recommended. Patient A is perfectly fine with one dental check-up per year, whereas his neighbour should visit his dentist two to three times per year.
Every single person benefits from visiting the dentist at least once a year. But the exact number of visits for maximizing oral hygiene should be hyperpersonalized.
The survey clearly demonstrates the correlation between people who visit a dentist at least once a year and good oral hygiene. 63% of the respondents who consulted a dentist during the past twelve months preceding the survey indicate that they brush their teeth two times or more each day.
What are the significant factors for low annual check-up rates?
Although women tend to visit a dentist more regularly than men, the health information survey doesn’t show a significant difference based on gender.
The significant factors for low annual check-up rates are: (a) age and (b) social-economic background.
As from age 55 less and less people visit a dentist once a year. For people older than 75 this is only 34%, which can be declared due to the fact that few elderly still have own denture.
Nonetheless, it is very important that also elderly regularly visit their dentist as the correlation between oral hygiene and general health is undeniable and elderly often have to cope with multiple diseases.
When we look at the results of the survey from a social-economic point of view, there are also significant differences.
The lower the level of education, the lower the number of people visiting the dentist at least once a year. Of the respondents with the lowest level of education, only 36% of the respondents visited their dentist the past twelve months. Compared to people who enjoyed higher education, 72% (double!) of respondents reported to have visited a dentist the past twelve months.
As 72% of people with higher education visit a dentist once a year whereas only 36% of people with the lowest education level do so, it is clear that health literacy should be a key focus.
This gap may partly be explained by (the lack of) financial means, but also the level of health literacy is considered to play an important role.
Pursuant to an increased attention to oral hygiene and government policy pertaining thereto, we can see an upward trend in Belgium over the past decade of people visiting their dentist at least once year.
Due to the fact that 38% of the Belgian population does not visit their dentist on a yearly basis, as demonstrated by the 2013 health information survey, the Belgian government has made the refundability dependent of the annual dental check-up. People who regularly visit the dentist are eligible for higher refunding.
We’re very curious to see how this measure will have affected the number of people paying a visit to their dentist at least once a year. The 2018 health information survey, which should normally be available in the course of 2020, will surely bring new insights on this subject matter.
Dental practices, victim of their own success?
When 100% of all people would visit their dentist at least once a year, this may present serious challenges which not all dental practices are ready for right now.
Now already in Belgium waiting lists for visits with the dentist are as long as 4 months (or even longer). How dental practices will manage the steep increase in work load, is anything but evident. In any case, dental practices will need to drive up their efficiency and effectivity.
 J. VAN DER HEYDEN, “Raadplegingen bij de tandarts” in S. DRIESKENS, L. GISLE (eds.), Gezondheidsenquête 2013. Rapport 3: Gebruik van gezondheids- en welzijnsdiensten, WIV-ISP, Brussel, 2015, 283-322 (only available in Dutch and French).
 E.J. Kay, “How often should we go to the dentist? About once a year – but rates of disease progression vary greatly”, BMJ 1999, 319:204-205.