This article reports a survey of the systems for the provision of oral healthcare in the 28 member and accession states of the EU/EEA in 2003. Descriptions of the systems were collected from the principal dental advisers to governments in the individual states. In many states these were the Chief Dental Officers (CDOs). In states without a CDO, descriptions were gathered from CDO equivalents or senior academics. A template (model description) was used to guide all respondents. Additional statistical information on oral healthcare costs and workforce was collected from the Council of European Chief Dental Officers, WHO and World Bank websites. The study showed that in broad terms there were six patterns (Beveridgian, Bismarkian, The Eastern European (in transition), Nordic, Southern European and Hybrid) for the administration and financing of oral healthcare in the expanding EU. The extent and nature of government involvement in planning and coordinating oral healthcare services and the numbers and pay of the oral healthcare workforce varied between the different models. The biggest recent changes in European oral healthcare were found to have occurred in Eastern Europe, where there has been wide scale privatization of the previously public dental services. However, most of the EU accession (Eastern European) states seemed to be slowly developing insurance systems to cover oral health treatment costs. In the existing EU/EEA, the public dental services such as those in the Nordic countries still have strong political support and some expansion has occurred. In Southern Europe public dental services seemed to have gained some acceptance for the treatment of children and special needs groups. In UK, which has a unique public dental service system, there are plans to make big changes in the delivery, commissioning and remuneration of dental services in the near future. Some EU member states which operate the Bismarkian system with health insurances offering wide population coverage, comprehensive treatment and benefits connected with frequent dental visits, were reported to be experiencing financial problems. The study also indicated that at present, with the exception of Portugal and Spain, where there is dynamic growth in the numbers of dentists, the overall size of the EU/EEA oral health workforce is expanding fairly slowly. Only a minority of member states appeared to collect data on uptake of services and care costs and there were great difficulties in assessing outcomes of care. The data on costs appeared to show wide variations from member state to member state in per capita spending on oral healthcare. In the majority of states, however, costs, especially those in the private sector, could only be estimated. Nevertheless, at a macro level, the study indicated that, in 2000, the 28 member and accession states of the EU/EEA had a total population of 456 million and an oral health workforce of 900,000 (some 300,000 of whom were dentists) and that the cost of oral healthcare was about EUR 54,000,000,000. The study showed wide variations in oral healthcare provision systems between EU/EEA member and accession states and no evidence of harmonization in the past.
Keywords: European Union, oral healthcare, systems, workforce, costs