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Varnishes and supervised brushing could cut the cost of children’s dental care

A study from the University of Plymouth has found that supervised brushing and treatment with fluoride varnishes are effective in reducing the incidence of tooth decay in children, and could also help the NHS save money.

Based on National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) thresholds, it was suggested that the interventions would be considered cost-effective if supervised brushing could be carried out for £46 per child per year, rising to an annual £62 per child for fluoride varnish. The NICE threshold for each Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) is £20,000.

This illustrates the potential savings of preventative treatments of this nature, particularly when compared to the price of hospital treatment for children suffering from severe tooth decay, which is now the leading cause of hospital admissions in children between the ages of five and nine. About 26,000 children in this age group visit hospital to have teeth extracted under sedation every year.

Lead researcher Elizabeth Kay said: “We have more work to do here to translate the results of our study into policy, but I must stress that this is about more than making better use of NHS funds, and demonstrating that oral health promotion programmes offer extremely good value for money. I think it is a national outrage that so many children in the UK are admitted to hospital for surgical procedures for conditions which are by and large preventable.

“If there was a health issue that resulted in this number of children having another body part removed under general or local anaesthetic there would be a justifiable national outcry, yet for many reasons tooth extraction appears to have become accepted in some circles. This study demonstrates that it is also economically viable and sensible to prevent tooth decay.”

She added that she hoped her findings would encourage the NHS to allocate more resources to supervised teeth brushing and fluoride varnish schemes, as opposed to more cost-intensive treatments.

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