In April, the Local Government Association issued a report which stated that around 100 children a day were being admitted to hospital for operations to remove rotten teeth. Now, data from NHS Digital shows that almost five million children did not visit an NHS dentist in 2015/16 – an increase of 40 per cent on the year before.
I continue to be greatly troubled by the state of children’s oral health in this country. I think it is a national outrage that the Local Government Association report showed that 40,970 surgical procedures were carried out on children for their teeth in 2014-15 at a cost of £35 million, all to address a health problem which is entirely preventable.
One has to ask the question: would the powers that be, be so sanguine if that many children were being admitted to hospital to have any other body part surgically-removed?
The data from NHS Digital headlines with the statistic that more than 40 per cent of children and teenagers under the age of 18 did not visit an NHS dentist in the past year. We can all agree that this is suboptimal and at worst reflects a lack of concern for children’s oral health, but in many ways I think it is a red herring.
Of course children should visit their dentist to have their oral health monitored and to receive treatment of necessary, but I believe that the emphasis should be on preventing oral disease in children. Oral disease is wholly preventable and prevention should be a priority for oral and public health providers.
At Plymouth University Peninsula School of Dentistry, children’s oral health is high on our agenda.
We run special children’s clinics in our Dental Education Facilities, where our students treat NHS patients under the supervision of qualified dental health professionals.
Children’s appointment are about more than check-ups and treatment – they also include support, advice and information for children and their families about how to look after their teeth and maintain a healthy diet, including how to reduce sugar intake. In many ways this sits at the crux of the issue highlighted by the NHS Digital data – it is not necessarily the number of times a child visits a dentist that matters, it is what that child and its parents take away from the session to ensure that good oral health techniques become embedded in everyday routine
Via the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise we also go out into the community to spread the message. Students run oral health awareness sessions with a wide variety of groups in the community – including schools and nurseries – as part of their studies and the Community Engagement Team at Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise are also active.