Barcelona to launch Spain’s first public (and cheap) dentistry service

The Catalan capital is looking to launch Spain’s first public orthodontist service, offering treatments for up to 40 percent less than through the private sector.

Barcelona to launch Spain's first public (and cheap) dentistry service
Photos: AFP

Barcelona residents with dental problems will soon be able to receive treatments on the public healthcare system thanks to a new measure spearheaded by the city’s mayor Ada Colau. 

If approved by Barcelona’s Social Rights Commission on January 15th, it will be the first comprehensive public dentistry service of its kind in Spain.

Having a filling put in will cost €55 – 13 percent less than the average private rate – according to Spanish consumer rights group Facua.

A root canal will cost €160 (30 percent lower) whereas a deep dental clean will be €30 (43 percent lower).

Barcelona Town Hall will make the public service available to all its citizens after initially launching it only for its most cash-strapped residents through mutual insurance company PANEM.

The public health service add-on will help 36,000 people annually, Barcelona authorities have estimated.

“More than 12 percent of our population doesn’t go to the dentist because they can’t afford it, even though it’s essential to live a healthy life,” Barcelona left-leaning mayor Ada Colau is quoted as saying by El Periódico.

“And it’s not just physical health I’m talking about, there are also the emotional and psychological implications to consider.”

A number of opposition parties including Ciudadanos and Spain’s Popular Party have called the measure “implausible” and “unsustainable”, whereas socialist PSOE MP Xavier Trias labelled the move an “improvisation to gather votes”.

Barcelona City Council representatives have argued in response that the public dentistry clinic is “completely viable financially” in that it will be self-sufficient, as the initial €500,000 of public funds that will be invested will be recovered through dentistry earnings.

Barcelona’s first municipal dentist is likely to be based in either the district of Sant Martí, Nou Barris or Sant Andreu, where the need for cheaper dentistry services is greater among its cash-strapped residents.

Spain’s public health system was ranked as the world’s third best by Bloomberg in 2018, but the country’s social security system doesn’t cover dentistry services, aside from certain treatments for children.

According to orthodontist association SEPA, Spaniards have the worst dental hygiene and oral health in southern Europe.

“Dental care has always been considered a luxury in Spain,“ Javier Sanz, of Primary Health Care Association Semergen, told El Pais.

“Healthcare isn’t free, we pay for it with our taxes.

“Providing public dental treatments around Spain would mean having to take funds away from other fields, which could be very detrimental.”


How Spain could stamp out smoking

A fifth of Spain's population smokes on a daily basis. With such high numbers, here's how the country's pulmonologists propose to get smokers to quit.

Spain plans to get people to quit smoking
How Spain plans to get people to stop smoking. Photo: Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP

For many outsiders, Spain is a nation of smokers. 

The stats from Spain’s Ministry of Health show that 23.3 percent of men smoke every day in Spain, compared with 16.4 percent of women.

For both males and females, the highest number of smokers are aged between 25 and 34, meaning that it’s the younger population who are smoking slightly more than the older generations. 

Spain’s pulmonologists are now pushing for the country’s tobacco laws to be tightened, claiming that reform is needed after the last legislation was approved a decade ago.

READ ALSO: Spain warns against smoking and vaping in public to avoid Covid infections

Why is smoking such a problem in Spain and what is being done about it?

The latest stats from the Spanish Ministry of Health show that lung cancer, often caused by smoking, is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in Spain, with 29,549 cases diagnosed so far in 2021.

Given these high figures Spain’s Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR) has proposed five measures to help get people to stop smoking.

SEPAR points out that every time anti-smoking legislation is reformed and things for smokers made more difficult, the prevalence of smoking decreases.  

Smoking on terraces was banned in some regions during the pandemic. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP
  • Price of tobacco to rise in 2022

The first point on their list is to raise the price of tobacco, which must cover all forms, from cigarettes to cigars, through to rolling tobacco, and electronic cigarettes.  

This first measure may soon become a reality as the Spanish government has already predicted that the price of tobacco will rise in 2022, after several years of stagnation.  

It is expected that tobacco will be responsible for almost a third of all special taxes received in 2022, equating to €21.8 billion.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “cheap tobacco” in Spain guarantees “a percentage of smokers above 30 percent”.

In Spain, the price of a pack of tobacco is around €5, which is much cheaper than in other countries. In Australia for example, a pack of tobacco costs around €22, and in the United Kingdom and France, each pack of tobacco costs around €12.4 and €10.5, respectively.

According to Dr. Carlos A. Jiménez Ruiz, pulmonologist and president of the society, the current anti-smoking law has “some deficiencies” that need to be addressed in order to develop legislation that is more effective and efficient, especially with regard to the prevention of tobacco consumption in young people, but also in helping smokers to stop smoking and in protecting the health of non-smokers. 

READ ALSO – Maps: Which beaches in Spain have banned smoking?

Besides increasing the cost of tobacco SEPAR proposes four other measures to get Spain to quit smoking. These include:

  • Banning the consumption of tobacco in public spaces, even outdoors
    During the pandemic, several regions approved a regulation to prohibit smoking on terraces. SEPAR proposes that smoking be prohibited not only in spaces such as terraces but also in sports stadiums, beaches, parks and bullrings, and that fines should be imposed for those who do not comply.

  • Establish generic packaging
    SEPAR also wants Spain to introduce generic packaging, which means no logos and images of the tobacco companies. This measure has also proven to lower the sales of tobacco in countries where it has been implemented, such as Australia and New Zealand. According to the latest statistics from the Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey around 11.6 percent of adults in Australia smoke daily. 

  • The regulation of other smoking devices
    Despite the fact that all products that burn tobacco such as cigarettes are already regulated, SEPAR believes that it is also necessary to regulate the sale, consumption and advertising of electronic cigarettes. This is because e-cigarettes have become particularly popular among young people. 

  • Promote help for those seeking to quit smoking
    The last proposal is the creation and development of special units in public health departments to help people to stop smoking and to put more funds towards these programmes. 

How does Spain compare with other European countries when it comes to smoking?

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while Spain does have a high number of smokers there are still several European countries that have more. The European countries with the highest number of smokers are Greece, Bulgaria and Hungary.

The latest European survey from 2020 shows that 42 percent of Greeks claim to be smokers, which is only slightly above Spain. 

On the other side, the European countries with the lowest number of smokers are mainly Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway.