17 December 2021

Millions of visits to the dentist reveal huge health problem

Dental care

In Denmark, infection in the gums, also known as periodontitis, has developed into a common disease. Unfortunately, few people receive the right treatment, simply because too few go to the dentist regularly – possibly because we have to pay for dentistry, the researchers behind a new study argue.

Photo of dental treatment
(The dental clinic at Panum. Photo: UCPH)

A lot of Danes probably have a guilty conscience about not going to the dentist. In a new scientific study from the University of Copenhagen, the researchers find that around two million – or 40 per cent of the adult population – fail to make the recommended annual visit to the dentist.

“Not going to the dentist once a year may not sound so bad. But in fact it is a problem that may result in great social and financial costs in other parts of the healthcare system,” says Postdoc Kasper Rosing from the Department of Odontology.

“We are worried”

The researchers have mapped all Danish visits to the dentist in the years 2012-2016 and looked at the number of Danes who receive treatment for the gum disease periodontitis.

“Too few of us receive treatment for periodontitis. We can see that around 12-14 per cent of the Danish population are treated for the condition, and that is nowhere near the number of Danes we expect to suffer from the disease. This worries us, because we know that oral diseases are connected to diseases in other parts of the body,” says Associate Professor at the Department of Odontology Christian Damgaard.     

Christian Damgaard explains that science has revealed connections between periodontitis and diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease. The researchers point out that studies from the countries we usually compare ourselves with find that a much larger share of the population suffers from periodontitis. In the US, for example, it is 46 per cent, and studies in Norway, Sweden and Germany show similar figures.

“We expect around 40 per cent of the population to suffer from varying degrees and stages of periodontitis. And seeing as only around 12-14 per cent of the population are treated for the disease, a lot of people must have an untreated infection. This can worsen their situation significantly, and it can cause them to develop conditions in other parts of the body,” Christian Damgaard explains.

Health inequality

Christian Damgaard’s research team is studying the connections between infection in the gums and infection in other parts of the body.

“It is a problem when periodontitis is not diagnosed and treated in time, as untreated periodontitis will lead to extensive infection and accelerated loss of the bone in which the teeth are rooted as well as the spread of bacteria and infection from dental pockets to the blood. Therefore, untreated periodontitis on such a large scale can result in extra costs in other parts of the healthcare system for treatment of cardiovascular disease, for example,” says Christian Damgaard.

The researchers have not looked into the reasons why so many Danes fail to go to the dentist. But they have an idea:

“In Denmark, we have been among the best in the world for many years now when it comes to dental health in children and youth. But in adults and senior citizens our dental health is less good when we compare ourselves to other European countries. The main difference between paediatric and adult dentistry is the fact that the individual adult citizen has to pay for dental care, even when they suffer from a disease in the oral cavity. We believe that is the reason,” he says.

At the same time, we know that Denmark faces great social inequality when it comes to dental care. Generally, the more well-off visit the dentist more often, but that is not true for all social classes.

“The most marginalised citizens are also the ones with the greatest dental issues and the ones who generally do not go to the dentist. And even though you can do a lot yourself, e.g. brushing your teeth and using interdental brushes, you cannot always prevent these conditions. But everyone should have access to proper treatment,” says Christian Damgaard.

Read the entire study here: ”Periodontal care attendance in Denmark in 2012-2016 – a nationwide register-based study”.



Associate Professor Christian Damgaard
+45 25 32 38 32

Postdoc Kasper Rosing
+45 51 92 50 03

Press Officer Mathias Traczyk
93 56 58 35