Urgent call for Government-funded toothbrushing schemes for young children

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The Government is being urged to make the funding of supervised tooth brushing programmes in nurseries and schools an ‘urgent priority’ to combat the 'tooth decay crisis'.

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Children at LEYF's Katharine Bruce Community Nursery learning about good oral hygiene

The charity Dental Wellness, which is behind the call, says the provision of such programmes across all UK nurseries and primary schools would reduce tooth decay in children by up to 30 per cent, saving the NHS nearly £30 million on tooth extractions.

According to the charity, which was set up in by London dentist Dr Linda Greenwall in 2011, approximately 36,500 children are admitted to hospital each year for tooth extractions at a cost of around £30.5 million.

Findings from a survey of parents and teachers conducted by Dental Wellness suggests that more than a fifth (24.7 per cent) of mothers and fathers are at risk of neglecting their child’s well-being by being unconcerned that their child is at risk of tooth decay if they don’t brush their teeth regularly.

A total of 1,200 parents of children and Reception, Key Stage 1 and 2 teachers took part in the survey. The sample included parents whose children attend London Early Years Foundation’s (LEYF) nurseries across London.

Just over 16 per cent of parents said they take their child to the dentist every 12 months, as opposed to every six months as recommended. A further seven per cent revealed they have never taken their child to a dentist despite the recommendation by the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry for all children to have a dental check by the age of one.

Reasons they gave for not taking their children regularly to the dentist included being ‘too scared’, saying it was too difficult to get an appointment and/or their children’s dental health not being a top priority or concern, which Dental Wellness says is ‘directly associated with neglect’.

However, more than 82 per cent of parents and 76 per cent of teachers agreed that compulsory tooth brushing should be included as part of the health education curriculum.

Public Health England (PHE) says nurseries can include good oral health as part of their work to promote the health of children in their setting, as set out in the EYFS.

Dr Saul Konviser from the Dental Wellness Trust said, ‘Tooth decay remains the leading cause of hospital admissions for children, yet some parents remain oblivious as to the shocking state of their child’s teeth. Every day we, as dentists, see a large number of children that require not just a simple filling but often multiple fillings or extractions. These children can often attend with severe dental infections and swollen faces needing antibiotics or even sedation or a general anaesthetic. It is bordering on dental neglect and, what is worse, is that it is almost completely avoidable. Now is the time to put prevention into practice.’

Yvonne Cadore, manager of LEYF’s Katharine Bruce Community Nursery (pictured) added, ‘Both parents and teachers have been very supportive of the tooth brushing programme in our nursery as it has provided the opportunity for children to be taught something essential alongside their friends and maintain good habits. It goes without saying, better dental hygiene taught at an early age will have long term benefits for children’s teeth, less nursery and school days lost and better for the general health and well-being of our children.’

Government response

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'We want all children to grow up to be happy, healthy and safe. That is why we are making health education universally compulsory in all schools, alongside relationships education for all primary pupils and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) for all secondary pupils, from September 2020.

'The guidance on health education sets out that, by the end of primary school, pupils should know about dental health and the benefits of good oral hygiene and dental flossing, including healthy eating and regular check-ups at the dentist.'

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