Call for young children's dental care to be prioritised

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Parents struggle to access free oral health care and are unaware of dental checks for one-year-olds, according to a new survey.

toothbrushing

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and Mumsnet asked 1,000 parents about their knowledge of children’s oral health and experience of accessing dental care.

It found that only half of parents were aware of official advice to take children to the dentist before their first birthday.

Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of respondents said they had experienced problems accessing free NHS dental care, either for themselves during pregnancy and the early days of motherhood, or for their children.

Over a third (41 per cent) of five-year-olds are diagnosed with tooth decay every year, and tooth decay is the most common single reason for children aged between five and nine requiring admission to hospital, the RCPCH said.

In response to the survey, the RCPCH is recommending that parents:

  • ensure their child visits the dentist by their first birthday
  • brush their child’s teeth twice daily for two minutes at a time with fluoride toothpaste 
  • swap fizzy drinks for water

The RCPCH has called on the Government to relieve local authorities of the costs of Community Water Fluoridation (CWF) schemes and instead fund them under NHS England. It has also asked local authorities in areas where there are significant problems to prioritise children’s oral health in health and wellbeing strategies, and adopt Oral Health Community Champions to raise awareness.

Local authorities and communities can add examples of effective children’s oral health interventions to an interactive map created by the RCPCH to promote and share good practice and innovative ideas.

Dr Elizabeth O'Sullivan of the RCPCH said, ‘Tooth decay is a horrible condition which causes toothache, cavities to develop in the teeth and sometimes abscesses. To treat it, children often have to have their decayed tooth extracted and this is an expensive business, costing the NHS around £50m for those under the age of 19. The prospect of having an operation is often scary for children and the risks associated with them should not be underplayed.

‘Currently, there is a postcode lottery in children’s oral health with some areas providing high quality interventions and awareness campaigns while others do not. This means there are pockets of children up and down the country missing out on services that are provided free of charge to others in neighbouring towns and cities. Surely it is easier to prevent poor dental health rather than try and treat it when it’s too late.

‘That’s why we are calling for all local authorities to show they take children’s dental health seriously by prioritising oral health in health and wellbeing strategies in areas where the oral health of children and young people is a significant problem.’

Rowan Davies, head of policy and campaigns at Mumsnet, added, ‘Finding out that your child has bad oral health or needs a filling can be a really disappointing and even embarrassing moment for parents; it’s even worse if the problem has been compounded by difficulty accessing care. Together with a good diet and regular brushing, the availability of affordable dentistry is an important part of the puzzle.’

To add a local children's oral health initiative to the RCPCH’s interactive map, email public.affairs@rcpch.ac.uk

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