Third of children “embarrassed to smile”

A THIRD of children are embarrassed to smile because of the state of their teeth, a new report reveals.

Thirty-five per cent of 12-year-olds and 28 per cent of 15-year-olds said they felt self-conscious when smiling and laughing because of visible tooth decay.

The figures emerged in the Children's Dental Health (CDH) Survey 2013 which covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland and is published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

There were some signs of improvement in recent years. There was a drop in the proportions of 12 and 15-year-olds with obvious decay in their adult teeth since the survey was last carried out in 2003. It was found in 34 per cent of 12-year-olds compared to 43 per cent in 2003, and 46 per cent of 15-year-olds (56 per cent in 2003).

Similar proportions of younger children were also found to have decay in their milk teeth, affecting 31 per cent of five-year-olds and 46 per cent of eight-year-olds.

The survey found levels of tooth health varied across the three countries. When comparing decay in adult teeth amongst 15-year-olds, for example, in 2013 the problem affected 44 per cent in England (55 per cent in 2003), 63 per cent in Wales (65 per cent in 2003) and 72 per cent in Northern Ireland (78 per cent in 2003).

The research also confirmed that youngsters from deprived backgrounds were more likely to suffer decay. Among five-year-olds from these areas, 41 per cent had decay compared to 29 per cent of those from better-off families.

Responses to the survey from parents suggest that nine out of 10 children of all ages attend for regular dental check-ups while nearly two-fifths (38 per cent) of children had good overall oral health with no obvious decay, no tooth surface loss into dentine and no tartar.

Among 12-year-olds, 69 per cent of boys and 85 per cent of girls brushed their teeth at least twice a day. That figure grew to 73 per cent and 89 per cent respectively amongst 15-year-olds. Sixteen per cent of 12-year-olds and 14 per cent of 15-year-olds admitted to having sugary drinks four or more times a day.

Responding to the survey, the British Dental Association’s scientific adviser Professor Damien Walmsley called for an end to the “postcode lottery” of dental health.

He said: “Despite welcome improvements over the past decade, this survey confirms that we are still looking at an oral health gap in Britain. It’s a scandal that a child’s postcode or their parents’ income still determines whether they will grow up with healthy smiles or rotten teeth.

“Although relatively small numbers of children say they consume sugary drinks frequently, there is no room for complacency since excessive intake of sugary foods and drinks are the main cause of tooth decay and the much-reported rise in obesity.

“These inequalities are persistent, but avoidable, and both parents and government must accept their share of responsibility. We need to send clear signals on brushing, on sugar and on fluoride if we are finally going to bridge this gap.”

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