More than a quarter of five-year-olds in England have tooth decay, experts said today as they warned of a “chasm of inequality” between youngsters from the richer south and poorer north.
A study of 133,000 youngsters by Public Health England (PHE) published today showed 27 per cent of children aged five have tooth decay, with on average between three and four teeth affected by decay, treated or untreated.
Children in the north or poorer areas had significantly worse oral health, the report found.
The British Dental Association said the variations showed a “chasm of inequality” in the oral health of youngsters.
The survey, compiled in 2012, is the second national survey undertaken from the previous one in 2008.
Four-year trends show overall improvements in decay and its severity in young children, PHE said.
Overall tooth decay in five-year-olds has reduced from 30.9 per cent to 27.9 per cent and the proportion of children with untreated decay has reduced from 27.5 per cent to 24.5 per cent.
And 72.1 per cent of five-year-olds are free from tooth decay, up from 69.1 per cent in 2008.
But levels of decay vary regionally, with more children in northern regions with tooth decay than those in the south and eastern regions. Levels of decay ranged from 21.2 per cent of five-year-olds in the South East to 34.8 per cent in the North West.
Decay levels are higher in the more deprived local authority areas.
Health Minister Lord Howe said: “We know more work is needed to make sure good oral health is more consistent right across the country.
”Every child should have the opportunity to grow up with a healthy smile.
“However, we have some of the lowest decay rates in the world and more than 70 per cent of children in England are completely free of tooth decay.”
Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at PHE, said: “This latest survey shows the numbers of five-year-olds free from tooth decay have improved but there is still much to do, dental decay is preventable.
”Parents should brush their children's teeth for at least two minutes twice a day, once just before bedtime and at least one other time during the day.
“Also supervise tooth brushing until your child is seven or eight years old, either by brushing their teeth yourself or, if they brush their own teeth, by watching how they do it.”
Dr Christopher Allen, the Chair of the British Dental Association's Dental Public Health Committee, said: “This report highlights a welcome improvement to the overall oral health of five-year-old children across England, but it also reminds us of the deep chasm that exists between those with the best and worst oral health.
”That divide is based not just on geography, but also on deprivation.
“The fight to close this divide must continue. Crucial to its success are ensuring that a full dental public health workforce is available to advise on initiatives and funding made available to implement preventive programmes that can make a difference, and that children have access to dental care in all parts of the country.”