Dental decay is the main cause of hospital admission for children between five and nine, the Local Government Association says, with 26,000 children in this age group admitted in 2013-14.
An analysis of NHS figures by the LGA shows that there has been a huge rise in the number of under-18s having operations to remove teeth in hospital, at a cost of £35m in 2014/15, compared with £21m in 2010/11.
Councils want the Government to include tough measures to tackle children’s consumption of sugar in the forthcoming childhood obesity strategy, because they believe that excessive consumption of fizzy drinks and foods high in sugar are the major reason for the increase.
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, the LGA’s Community Wellbeing spokeswoman, said, ‘Our children’s teeth are rotting because they are consuming too much food and drink high in sugar far too often. Nearly half of 11 to 15-year-olds have a sugary drink at least once a day. As these figures show, we don't just have a child obesity crisis, but a children's oral health crisis too.
‘What makes these numbers doubly alarming is the fact so many teeth extractions are taking place in hospitals rather than dentists. This means the level of tooth decay is so severe that removal is the only option. It goes to show that a good oral hygiene routine is essential, as well as how regular dentist trips can ensure tooth decay is tackled at an early stage.
‘Poor oral health can affect children and young people's ability to sleep, eat, speak, play and socialise with others. Having good oral health can help children learn at school, and improve their ability to thrive and develop, not least because it will prevent school absence.’
Professor Nigel Hunt, dean of the faculty of dental surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, said, 'As dental surgeons who called for a sugar tax, we now urge the Government to put vital resource into developing a children’s oral health strategy to address this.
'However, local authorities can also do a lot more such as introducing water fluoridation in their areas and supporting sugar reduction in schools.'
Councils are using a range of strategies to tackle the problem.
In Suffolk, where 20 per cent of five-year-olds have tooth decay, some children already have three to four decayed teeth by the time they start school.
Suffolk County Council has launched an oral health improvement strategy, which includes giving new mothers a pack at their child’s eight or nine-month check-up, with a child’s tooth brush, toothpaste and information on how to cut sugar intake.
In Buckinghamshire, the county council runs a Smile Award Plus programme in nurseries and children’s centres. Smile Award Accreditation is awarded to those with a tooth-friendly food and snack policy. More than nine in ten children’s centres have achieved the award.
PACEY dental survey
Commenting on the findings, PACEY said that childcare professionals could play a greater role in helping improve the oral health of the nation’s children as their work supports children’s health and wellbeing as much as their educational development.
A recent survey of PACEY’s members about the oral health of children in settings revealed that only 43 per cent of children in their care regularly visited the dentist (twice a year).
A similar proportion said their children never brush their teeth while in their setting.
However, more than 80 per cent said they would welcome a dental health professional to come into their setting to demonstrate good practice and free teeth brushing kits.
Liz Bayram, chief executive of PACEY, said, ‘These alarming figures clearly highlight the extent of the oral health crisis for children. We cannot allow children to undergo unnecessary dental procedures that are entirely preventable through good diet and oral hygiene.
‘The sugar tax was a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to support parents, health and childcare professionals to understand how to ensure good oral health.’
Ms Bayram added, ‘We need a joined up approach to tackling this issue or levels of tooth decay in our children will continue to escalate.’
- See how one nursery is tackling tooth decay in the latest in our series on multi-agency working out in Nursery World on Monday.