Scotland still playing "catch up" on children’s dental health

DENTAL health among children in Scotland has improved by 24 per cent since 2000 but the high levels of social inequality in dental care are still unacceptable, says the British Dental Association.

New figures from the National Dental Inspection Programme in Scotland show that more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of 5-year-olds now have no obvious signs of tooth decay. But the same survey also reveals a huge gap in dental health in P1 children from more affluent areas compared to the lowest income households – with 55 per cent from the most deprived areas free from tooth decay compared with 82 per cent from the least deprived.

Scotland also still lags behind countries of similar development, such as England and Norway. Comparable figures show that two-thirds (75 per cent) of 5-year olds in England are decay-free, with broadly similar figures for Norway (73-86 per cent).

Robert Donald, chair of the BDA's Scottish Dental Practice Committee (and also an MDDUS Board member), said: "Scotland is leading the way in investing in children's dental health. The huge improvement we have seen in youngsters' teeth since the millennium is testament to investing in an early years' prevention scheme, which operates in our nurseries and schools. Undoubtedly ChildSmile has saved many young children from distress, days out of education, and ultimately avoidable dental treatment.

"However, despite this improvement Scotland is still playing catch-up with our neighbour south of the border, so there is no scope for standing still. There is no escaping either the fact that far too many children from our most disadvantaged communities still bear the burden of tooth decay, a largely preventable disease.

"Government ministers must continue to invest in ChildSmile, to tackle this unacceptable inequality in dental health. The BDA has also called on the Scottish government to expand the ChildSmile programme to 5 to 12-year-olds and we have championed wide-ranging action on sugar, including taxation, public education and marketing, and for proceeds from the sugar levy to be directed to oral health initiatives."