Inequality gap in child tooth decay

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NEW data on child tooth decay in England has revealed an almost a twenty-fold difference in severity between local authorities with the best and worst outcomes.

The latest Child Oral Health Survey from Public Health England did find improvements in overall tooth decay levels but also wide regional inequalities, with only 5.1 per cent of young children in Waverley in Surrey presenting with decay compared to 49.4 per cent in Pendle in Lancashire. Five-year-olds in Pendle have on average 2.3 decayed, missing or filled teeth compared to just 0.1 for those in Waverley.

Dental advocates including the BDA have expressed concern that authorities in England have failed to follow the lead set by devolved governments to bring supervised brushing to schools and nurseries. They cite the Childsmile (Scotland) and Designed to Smile (Wales) programmes which use targeted interventions and have had success in reducing NHS treatment costs.

The BDA points out that tooth decay is the number one reason for child hospital admissions in England. Each day 170 children and teenagers in England undergo tooth extractions under general anaesthesia in hospitals in England at a cost of £36 million per year. The number of operations has increased by 17 per cent since 2012.

The BDA advocates a coherent and appropriately funded strategy to bridge the inequalities gap and urges greater effort from both local and national government.

Chair Mick Armstrong said: "It's a tragedy that a child's oral health is still determined by their postcode and their parents' incomes.

"We should not accept that a child raised in Pendle will enter primary school with twenty times the levels of decay as one born in the Surrey home of the Health Secretary. Sadly while cavities are almost wholly preventable, official indifference means this inequality gap shows little sign of narrowing."

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