Call for action on postcode lottery of child dental decay

GOVERNMENT is being urged to tackle deep-seated oral health inequalities which have left young children in deprived parts of England more than five times more likely to face hospital dental extractions than the national average.

The British Dental Association (BDA) is pressing for action following analysis of new data from Public Health England (PHE) on hospital-based tooth extractions for children in every local authority in England in 2017/18.

Over 59,000 patients aged 0-19 underwent dental extractions under a general anaesthetic, representing 7 per cent of all hospital procedures performed on children. Nearly 85 per cent of extractions with decay as the primary diagnosis were conducted on patients aged 10 and under.

Areas with the highest rates of extractions included Rotherham, Sheffield, Preston and Blackpool. Doncaster has England’s highest rates of extractions (nearly 600 in total), more than five times the national average for 6-10-year-olds undergoing the procedure – on average one in every classroom.

Figures from PHE show £1 spent on supervised tooth brushing programmes in nurseries and primary schools would yield a £3.06 return in five years, rising to £3.66 in 10, as a result of reduced treatment costs. The BDA backs a properly resourced national programme for England and points out that the Starting Well programme, has no new funding attached, and is only operating in a handful of local authorities.

BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said: "Children’s oral health shouldn’t be a postcode lottery, but these figures show just how wide the oral health gap between rich and poor has become.

"While Wales and Scotland have national programmes making real inroads, in England Ministers are yet to commit a penny of new money to the challenge. This poverty of ambition is costing our NHS millions, even though tried-and-tested policies would pay for themselves."