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Nearly one quarter of five year olds have tooth decay

Article By: Ellie Spanswick, News Editor

Latest figures published by Public Health England (PHE) have revealed that the number of five-year-olds with tooth decay has dropped to its lowest level in nearly a decade.

The results of the oral health survey of 111,500 five-year-olds, accounting for 16.5 per cent of five-year-olds in England whose parents and carers opted in to the survey, revealed that less than 25 per cent of those studied have tooth decay, a drop of 20 per cent since 2008.

The continued downward trend is witnessed in the latest oral health survey of five-year-olds, asking parents to opt-in since 2008, the same year where 31 per cent of five-year-olds had tooth decay, a figure which dropped to 27 per cent in 2007.

The improvements in dental health among the age group show the impact that parents and carers can have on establishing good dental habits from an early age.

Director of dental public health at PHE, Dr Sandra White, said: “This is great news. However, one child with tooth decay is one too many and there is still much inequality in dental health around the country. Tooth decay is painful and too often results in teeth extraction, some under general anaesthetic.

“This is further evidence that we can stop tooth decay in its tracks. Limiting sugary food and drink, supporting children to brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and regular trips to the dentist, will help prevent a great many more children suffering at the hands of tooth decay.”

The new survey revealed that an estimated 166,467 five-year-olds had tooth decay compared to 177,423 in 2008.

Although the study revealed a decline in tooth decay at a national level, there is still a considerable variation between the North and South of the UK. In the North West of England, one third of five-year-olds have tooth decay, whereas just one fifth do in South East England, supporting previous indications that areas with higher levels of deprivation tend to have higher levels of tooth decay.

While the number of five-year-olds who had teeth removed due to decay dropped to 2.5 per cent compared to previous figures in 2008 of 3.5 per cent, approximately 2,000 less children. Regional variations revealed that just 1.9 per cent of five-year-olds in the East Midlands had tooth extractions due to decay compared to 3.9 per cent of children in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Government targets holding back a preventative approach to oral health

Wales was recently reported as seeing the largest improvement in dental decay among five-year-olds, according to a Cardiff University study. The study revealed that rates had fallen by 12 per cent since 2007, from 47.6 per cent to 35.4 per cent, while in Scotland saw rates fall by 10 per cent during the same period.

Possible reasons for the reduction in the number of cases of decay could be due to the Welsh initiative, Designed to Smile, a preventive programme designed to improve the oral health of children living in some of the most deprived areas. Similarly, Scotland’s Childsmile, is programme that has reportedly saved £5m in treatment costs.

Although England currently has no equivalent national scheme in operation, there are a number of apps and programmes, such as Brush Time and Dental Buddy available to parents and childcare workers to help them to encourage and support good oral health from an early age.

Previously, the British Dental Association (BDA) has argued that policy makers in England have not shown the same level of enthusiasm for innovation to help improve children’s oral health compared to previous Governments.

While a recent survey of NHS dentist revealed that more than 80 per cent felt they were unable to carry out preventative work due to NHS contract systems and rigid Government targets. Following the rise in the number of children facing hospital tooth extractions, from 32,457 in 2010-11 to 40,970 in 2014-15, dentists’ leaders have called for the Government to provide a contract and strategy focusing on prevention.

Chair of the British Dental Association’s General Practice Committee, Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, added: “We are seeing modest improvements in oral health, not the breakthrough our children deserve. We are paying the price for decades of Government indifference, which has left persistent oral health inequalities and an ever-growing number of kids facing extractions in hospital.

"It is a scandal that one in four young children are now living with decay. Sadly Westminster has been unwilling to embrace innovation or break with the failed Government targets that have held back a genuinely preventive approach to oral health.

“It is now imperative that ministers provide a strategy and a contract that can put prevention first.”


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