A new pilot study to look into the effects of social deprivation on children’s dental health and how it can be combatted has received funding from the Medical Research Council.
A grant of £150,000 will go towards examining the potential impact of visits from specially trained dental nurses during pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life, in a bid to establish a good oral hygiene routine early on. The study will be led by Elizabeth Kay, a professor and foundation dean at the Peninsula Dental School at Plymouth University.
She said: “Each year around 25,000 young children attend hospital to have teeth extracted under anaesthetic, even though tooth decay is largely a preventable problem, and in my view that is a national outrage.
“Last autumn the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published guidelines recommending that local authorities focus their oral health promotion efforts on children’s early years.”
“While there is plenty that the state in its many forms can do to promote oral health awareness and good oral health practices to children and their parents, fundamentally children’s teeth need to be cared for at home.”
The state of children’s dental health tends to be worse in communities where there are high levels of social and economic deprivation.
The researchers will work with the Family Nurse Partnership (FNP), which provides advice and support to first-time mothers. Quality support officer Abby Nelder suggested that the impact of the partnership could be significant, as levels of knowledge around oral health are often lower than expected.
For instance, many parents are unaware of the damage that can be caused by fruit juices that are high in sugar, even though they are portrayed as a healthy option, and may not know how to choose the right kinds of toothbrushes and toothpaste for their children.
She added that the approach could potentially be adopted by the FNP across the country if the results in Plymouth are positive.