The poorest people in the UK have fewer teeth remaining by the age of 70 than the richest in society, a study has found.
Researchers at Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust, UCL and the National Centre for Social Research found that on average, the poorest people in the country have eight fewer teeth than the richest – suggesting a strong link between people's socioeconomic position and their oral health.
The study, published in the Journal of Dental Research, found oral health was substantially worse among the poorest 20% of society compared to the richest.
Sidney Alcock, 68, lost all his teeth at a young age after suffering from gum disease as a result of poor oral health. He never smoked and did not eat too much sugar. He said: "I have had false teeth but they don't last, so losing my teeth has made a big impact on my life. It costs a lot of money for false teeth.
"When I was young we didn't have milk or eggs, or much other dairy, we had to eat powdered eggs. I'm sure that has had an impact on how good my teeth were."
The scientists looked at over 6,000 people aged over 21 from all income groups. People with lower incomes, less education and higher deprivation had more tooth decay, gum disease and tooth gaps.
Lead author Jimmy Steele CBE said: "It's probably not a big surprise that poorer people have worse dental health than the richest, but the surprise is just how big the differences can be and how it affects people.
"Eight teeth less on average is a huge amount and will have had a big impact for these people. From our data it is hard to say which specific factors are driving each of the differences we are seeing here, but there is probably a real mix of reasons and it is not just about, for example, the availability of treatment."
Findings also showed that while oral health is improving – younger people have healthier mouths, social divisions remained. Poor people were more likely to rate their oral health as bad and say it affected their lives more than the wealthiest in society.
"Although the younger generation have much better oral health than their parents ever did, the differences between rich and poor are very considerable and young people are particularly aware when they do not have a healthy mouth," Steele said. "The risk is that as health gets better overall the differences just get greater and poorer people lose out."