It was front page news in the Sunday Times, and the story continues to rumble on. The report published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre that revealed more than 25,000 children aged five to nine were admitted to hospital due to tooth decay - more than any other reason - is alarming. Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, explains why it's a problem that needs to be rectified now for our future's sake.
It is incredibly worrying to see that almost 26,000 five to nine year-olds treated in hospital for tooth decay. This may be an increase of more than 3,000 since 2010, but the truth of the matter is these figures are an improvement on 30 years ago when many extractions were performed under anaesthetic in practice.
The headline figure is certainly one that grabs attention, but oral health is improving. The increase in fluoridated water supplies,fluoride varnish treatments for children in high-risk areas of the country and general better oral health maintenance are some of the reasons for the improvement.
However, it is unacceptable that a child's first visit to the dentist be made at a time when they are in pain and have multiple teeth needing extraction. This sets the child up for a potential lifetime of poor dental health and dental phobia. It is the view of the British Dental Health Foundation that this is parental neglect in three areas, all of which are basic oral hygiene principles.
It is neglecting supervised brushing twice daily with the use of a fluoride toothpaste. It is the failure to manage a child's diet due to constant snacking on sugary foods and snacks, which in turn is failure to look after their general health, and it is neglecting their responsibility to take them to the dentist from age 2 and a half when their teeth are coming through. The key message is cutting down on how often children have sugary foods and drinks.
The increase in consumption of sugary foods and drinks is one of the key reasons for dental decay. In February last year the British Dental Health Foundation joined more than 60 organisations backing recommendations for a tax on sugary drinks. The report, compiled by Sustain entitled ‘A Children's Future Fund - How food duties could provide the money to protect children's health and the world they grow up in', makes three main recommendations it believed would help to improve children's health. They are:
- Introduce a sugary drinks duty for the UK which, for example at 20p per litre, would raise around £1 billion a year;
- Ring-fence the majority of money raised from a sugary drinks duty for a Children's Future Fund, which could be spent on improving children's health by, for example, providing free school meals, or sustainably produced fruit and vegetable snacks in schools; and
- Give an independent body the responsibility to oversee how the sugary drinks duty is implemented and make sure the revenue is spent effectively.
This announcement was preceded by previous Public Health Minister Anna Soubry, who revealed as part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal that Lucozade and Ribena would be reducing the amount of sugar and calories in their products by up to 10 per cent as part of the Government's drive to reduce levels of obesity.
Other leading brands such as IrnBru and J2O also said they would work to reduce the calorific content of their drinks as part of the deal. Both of these initiatives are a step in the right direction, but more can be done.
From an oral health point of view it is how often sugary foods and drinks are consumed, which heightens the risk of tooth decay. If parents remember this message, there will be an inevitable reduction in consumption and benefits for both general and dental health.
Tooth decay is entirely preventable through nothing more than a few very basic oral health messages. The British Dental Health Foundation encourages everybody to brush their teeth for two minutes twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste, cut down on how often they have sugary foods and drinks and visit the dentist regularly, as often as they recommend.