Last year, the then Health Minister, Alistair Burt, told the BDA Conference that the number of children going to hospital for dental extractions was a ‘national scandal’, which should not be tolerated.
Since then, the profession has been waiting for a national plan to tackle the problem.
This month, Public Health England published guidance – Health matters: child dental health, giving advice on ‘how health professionals can help prevent tooth decay in children under five as part of ensuring every child has the best start in life.’
Published on the website relating to the effect of dental disease in children;
Many children would be missing additional school days while attending the hospital and recovery the following day, culminating in the majority of children missing at least 2 school days with some children being absent for up to 15 days.
These missed school days will not only affect the child, but the family as well. Many days of work were potentially lost, as 41% of parents or carers of these children were employed.
Oral health is seen as a marker of wider health and social care issues including poor nutrition and obesity. The relationship between obesity, deprivation and dental caries is unclear. Despite this, it is likely that interventions that reduce sugar intake have the potential to impact both conditions at the population level because deprivation and high intakes of free-sugars are known risk factors for both dental caries and for obesity.
Evidence shows that poor oral health may also be indicative of dental neglect and wider safeguarding issues. Dental neglect is defined as ‘the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic oral health needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of a child’s oral or general health or development’.
Children who have high levels of disease in primary teeth have an increased risk of disease in their permanent teeth. If treated, these teeth will require long term maintenance throughout life.
Dental treatment under general anaesthesia presents a small but real risk of life-threatening complications for children and carries significant morbidity for children undergoing this procedure.
The statistics speak for themselves;
A quarter of five-year-olds had experienced tooth decay, having on average three or four teeth affected.
Twelve per cent of three-year-olds had decay, with on average three teeth affected.
In Blackburn and Darwen, 56% of children aged five have tooth decay compared to just 4% in south Gloucester.
The areas with poorer dental health tend to be in the north and in the more deprived local authority areas.
The vast majority of tooth decay was untreated.
Tooth extraction was the sixth most common procedure in hospital for children under five years of age, and it was the most common reason for hospital admission for children aged five to nine years old.
The guidance also stresses the financial cost, being £50.5 million for hospital extractions for under 19-year-olds.
For under five-year-olds there were 9,306 admissions for tooth extractions, at a cost of approximately £7.8 million.
It also notes that ‘there are a number of cost effective interventions to prevent tooth decay that can save money in the long term and reduce the number of children needing time off school because of tooth decay’.
At Happy Teeth we provide Oral Health Education workshops to schools. Seeing the great need for this education, having 12 years experience working within the dental team and having experience working in the Emergency Dental Care service across Merseyside.
The below quote taken from the report;
‘The most effective way to improve dental health is to embed it in all children’s services at strategic and operational levels.’
The service we at Happy Teeth provide to schools, children’s centres, and healthcare services gives informative advice and information delivered in numerous workshops. Working with children from Early Years to KS4, sessions are informative with an aim for prevention in dental health. We provide vital knowledge on diet and keeping good oral health. Provided in fun sessions, embedding other core subjects in to sessions. Working together on this subject could provide a blueprint for improving child dental health and addressing the ‘national scandal’ to which the Minister referred a year ago.