Every year, thousands of children are admitted to hospital with tooth decay, and now schools and nurseries are being asked to make efforts in addressing the problem.
As tooth decay can so easily be prevented, health experts are questioning why the rates of the disease in children aged three to five are so worryingly high. In an attempt to lower the number of children hospitalised with the problem, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recently called for nurseries and schools to play a bigger part in facing the problem.
Their suggestion to local authorities was for tooth brushing to be supervised and for fluoride varnishing programmes to be implemented in areas where children were most at risk of poor dental health. Now, Scotland and Wales have taken up the challenge, but England are falling behind.
All nurseries in Scotland have incorporated supervised tooth brushing schemes into their daily routine, with some also providing fluoride varnish and toothbrushing in primary one and two in targeted areas. Set up in 2001, the programme, run by Childsmile, costs around £1.8m a year, and has so far saved more than £6m in dental costs. A University of Glasgow study found that the cost of treating dental disease fell by over a half in the decade since it began.
In Wales, a national oral health improvement initiative was set up a few years ago entitled Designed to Smile. Offering toothbrushing and fluoride varnish programmes for young children in areas where tooth decay is prevalent, it was granted a £12m investment in 2009. David Thomas, chief dental officer for Wales, notes that while it is too early to be able to see the full impact of the programme, progress has been ‘encouraging’, with levels of tooth decay decreasing across all social groups. ‘Crucially, we are seeing fewer children experiencing decay,’ he adds, and not just decreasing numbers of rotten teeth in those affected.
In England however, supervised brushing in nurseries and primary schools is yet to become the norm, only carried out on a larger scale following government involvement. Despite it being the most common oral disease affecting children and young people in the country, only a few nurseries carry out supervised tooth brushing sessions of their own accord, believing that good dental habits start from a young age and so should be re-enforced. Dr Sandra White, director of Dental Public Health at Public Health England, states that ‘oral health is everyone’s responsibility’, and hopes that if more nurseries and schools play a greater role, dental health for children will significantly improve.