Objective: To determine whether or not and to what extent health promotion and smoking cessation activities varied between dental practices relative to their National Health Service (NHS)/private treatment mix.
Methods: A piloted questionnaire was posted to all dental practitioners within West Yorkshire, with two follow-up mailings.
Results: The response rate was 50% (386/769) of dental practitioners within West Yorkshire. Respondents were dichotomised at the median according to the proportion of NHS/private patients seen (>89% NHS, described as 'NHS-orientated practices' [NHSOPs] and <90% NHS, referred to as 'more privately-orientated practices' [POPs]). Practice profiles: Compared with POPs, NHSOPs' respondents had a significantly higher proportion of adult patients exempt from NHS charges (34% vs 57%), together with a higher proportion of children. Health promotion activities: there was no significant difference between the two groups of practitioners regarding the proportion claiming to give smoking cessation advice (42% vs 37%), although a higher proportion of those from POPs offered guidance on diet and nutrition (67% vs 54%; P<0.05). However, a significantly higher proportion of POP respondents reported (a) recording smoking status in the clinical notes, (b) giving out smoking-related leaflets, and (c) referring to an NHS 'Stop Smoking Service'. NHSOP respondents were more likely to cite 'lack of time', 'no incentive' and 'lack of expertise' as potential barriers to providing health promotion advice. General: 7% of POP respondents thought that the new NHS contract arrangements would influence their smoking cessation activities versus 19% of NHSOP residents.
Conclusions: Considerable variation between NHSOPs and POPs was found when comparing aspects of their health promotion/smoking cessation activities. The findings identified here suggest that the current situation, with regard to the NHS, will tend to increase health inequalities.