Nearly half British children and teenagers have tooth decay

However, levels of tooth decay have fallen since 2003

Nearly half of young children and teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have tooth decay, according to new figures.

Forty-six per cent of eight year olds and the same proportion of 15-year-olds had obvious decay, according to the first Children’s Dental Health Survey since 2003.

The figures are an improvement, but there is still a large gap between the dental health of the poorest children and the richest. Around a third of five-year-olds and a similar proportion of 12-year-olds have tooth decay, according to the survey, which dates from 2013 and was published today by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

 

It also shows more children are brushing their teeth than 10 years ago but slightly fewer are having regular check-ups with the dentist.

Consumption of sugary drinks remains high, with 16 per cent of 12-year-olds and 14 per cent of 15-year-olds drinking them four times a day or more.

However, levels of tooth decay have fallen since 2003, from 43 per cent among 12-year-olds and 56 per cent among 15-year-olds.

Scotland, although not included in the survey, has also seen falling rates of tooth decay. 

Government health advisors from Public Health England (PHE) welcomed the decline but said it was of concern that children from poorer families were twice as likely to have tooth decay.

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Levels of tooth decay have fallen since 2003 (Getty Images)

Dr Sandra White, PHE’s director of dental public health, said there was an “urgent” need to cut the amount of sugary snacks and drinks in children’s diets. She added that fluoride, which is now found in most toothpastes, had “indisputable” benefits. Some parts of the country, including Birmingham, Tyneside and most of Warwickshire have introduced fluoride into the water supply to improve dental health. About 5.5m in the UK receive artificially fluoridated water and another 500,000 have naturally fluoridated water supplies.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation said there was a “clear need” for more people, particularly in deprived areas, to get fluoridated water. 

Among five-year-olds from the most deprived families, 41 per cent had tooth decay compared to 29 per cent among five-year-olds from less deprived families.

The British Dental Association said it was a “scandal that a child’s postcode or their parents’ income still determine whether they will grow up with healthy smiles or rotten teeth”.

Professor Damien Walmsley, scientific adviser to the BDA said: “These inequalities are persistent, but avoidable, and both parents and government must accept their share of responsibility.”

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