It's time to give our children a reason to smile again

17 November 2023, 15:51

There needs to be true leadership in the battle against childhood tooth decay.
There needs to be true leadership in the battle against childhood tooth decay. Picture: Alamy

By Dr Saul Konviser

The UK is currently facing a dental epidemic caused by a lack of access to dental services, poor preventative resources in the Early Years, excessive sugary diets and no succinct strategy to tackle dental decay amongst children.

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The recent stats referenced in LBC’s post about the dire state of children’s oral health in Plymouth which revealed that a staggering 600 children had a combined 4,000 teeth extracted and that in one local primary school, teachers discovered that 50% of their pupils had never seen a dentist – this is a perfect example of the geographical health inequalities that exist in Britain today.

With many of the country’s most desirable locations found in coastal towns, the juxtaposition of some of the most deprived and unhealthiest areas is simply staggering.

The extremely worrying rates of poor child dental health, not just in these towns but across the country, needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency to prevent far wider reaching consequences.

We know that poor oral health is linked to poor systemic health and wellbeing so when a small child has such bad toothache that they cannot sleep or eat, must miss school, or have multiple teeth extracted – how is that child supposed to be able to thrive? The irony is, of course, this is all entirely preventable if some straightforward, evidence-based measures were to be put in place.

As a dentist, I see many children that require not just a simple filling but often multiple fillings or extractions. This is often a result of eating too many sugary foods or consuming excessive fizzy drinks which, in my opinion, is bordering on dental neglect. We always want children to be brushing their teeth twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste and supervised until around the age of eight. We also recommend that they attend the dentist by the age of one or by the time their first tooth erupts. This is, of course, in conjunction with healthy eating habits and limiting the frequency and amount of sugar consumption which poses a huge risk of tooth decay. What’s more, excessive unhealthy food and sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption has been linked to weight gain, as it provides a major and unnecessary source of calories with little or no nutritional value.

A focus on dental health in the Early Years is therefore essential to help tackle these concerning statistics. Establishing healthy dental routines and habits from a young age, regardless of a child’s background, location or socio-economic status, will help give them the best start in life.

Early Years settings can play a crucial role in helping provide a certain level of dental health support to children and we, as the Dental Wellness Trust, have been helping address the burden of dental disease by providing our free LiveSmart Supervised Toothbrushing and Fluoride Varnish Programmes to children across the country.

Despite thousands of children participating daily in nurseries and schools, these community dental services are simply not wide reaching enough or able to access all those children in need.

Our supervised toothbrushing programme is a well-established and evidence-based method of helping to reduce the risks of early childhood dental decay and, in fact, is a key Government recommendation as one of the best ways to address childhood dental disease.

The Dental Wellness Trust trains staff in how to deliver as well as monitor the rollout of the supervised toothbrushing programme to children, with the provision of free toothbrushes and toothpaste and education materials supplied by the charity.

We now call on the next Government to show true leadership in the battle against childhood tooth decay. This can be done by helping fund the roll-out of programmes such as supervised toothbrushing and fluoride varnish programmes, especially to those communities most in need. Also, we need to see more robust policies in place such as extending the sugar levy to other sugar laden products such as shakes, cakes and other sweetened treats to help the children of this country stay healthy and maintain good oral health which is their basic human right.

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