Recently published figures from Public Health England show that rates of tooth decay in children aged five from deprived areas remain stubbornly high, at around 40 per cent. By contrast, only about 15 per cent are affected in more affluent neighbourhoods. This is despite major overall progress in children’s dental health over the past decade.
The disparity was criticised by Sandra White, Public Health England’s director of public dental health. Addressing Parliament’s Health Select Committee, she said that children who suffer from decay in their milk teeth are more likely to have problems with their teeth as adults.
She added that in many cases, giving preventative advice about proper oral hygiene was more effective than treating decay once symptoms had become more advanced, warning against a culture of “supervised neglect”.
The statistics come after the Health and Social Care Information Centre made the worrying discovery that the biggest reason for hospital admissions among primary school children was multiple dental extractions in 2013/14.
Addressing the health select committee, chief dental officer for England Barry Cockcroft said that extractions were more common in poorer communities because of a lack of early intervention, as well as low levels of awareness about the dangers of tooth decay.
He added: “There is too much a burden of dental disease in those that do have the disease and that’s very much linked to deprivation, to social factors. I think we shouldn’t see this purely as a dental issue. This is a societal issue that we need to address across a broad front.”
The discussion has been launched in the wake of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) making a number of recommendations to prevent tooth decay in disadvantaged children, such as parental education, adding proper tooth-brushing technique to nursery and primary school curricula, and offering preventative treatments such as fluoride varnish and fissure sealant treatment more widely.
Routine check-ups were also mentioned as a key prevention method.