Mixed success in reducing child tooth decay

HOSPITAL admissions in England for tooth decay in children aged 5-9 have increased for the second consecutive year but have dropped among ages 1-4 years and 10-14 years.

A total of 26,111 5-9 year olds were admitted for tooth decay in 2017-2018 compared to 25,923 in 2016-2017, according to data published by NHS Digital. This is more than double the number of children in that age group admitted for tonsillitis, and tooth decay remains the number one reason that 5-9 year olds are admitted to hospital.

Hospital admissions for tooth decay in other age groups have decreased, with the number of 1-4 year olds decreasing from 8,281 in 2016-2017 to 7,666 in 2017-2018. Among 10-14 year olds, admissions fell from 7,303 in 2016-2017 to 7,060 in 2017-2018. In total, 44,047 children aged between 0 and 19 were admitted to hospital because of tooth decay in 2016-2017, with the youngest being two children aged less than a year old.

Last month NHS Digital data showed that 31.5 per cent of 5-9 year olds did not visit an NHS dentist in the 12 months leading up to 30 June 2018.

Professor Michael Escudier, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery, commented: "It is disappointing that we haven't seen the same improvement in the number of children aged 5 to 9 being admitted to hospital for dental decay as we have for other age groups. These children will likely be having teeth removed in hospital under general anaesthetic – something that should never be taken lightly.

"When you consider that tooth decay is 90 per cent preventable and NHS dental treatment is free for all under 18s, it is disgraceful that so many children in their early years of school are suffering time away from class to have teeth removed. Parents and carers must ensure children visit the dentist regularly, eat less sugar and brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.

"Supervised tooth brushing sessions in nurseries and primary schools are an excellent way to instil good oral health habits at an early age, and there should be support for these programmes in the NHS Long Term Plan. Initiatives such as NHS England's Starting Well programme are beginning to reach high need areas but there is more that can be done. The Faculty of Dental Surgery would like the initiative to be rolled out more widely, so more children can benefit. We'd also like to see some the money raised by the Soft Drinks Industry Levy used to improve oral health education."