Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Children ‘pay the price’ of dentistry issues, experts warn

The comments follow new figures released by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.

Storm Newton
Thursday 01 February 2024 17:02 GMT
Labour accused the Conservatives of letting NHS dentistry ‘rot’ (Rui Vieira/PA)
Labour accused the Conservatives of letting NHS dentistry ‘rot’ (Rui Vieira/PA) (PA Wire)

Children are “continuing to pay the price” for issues in NHS dentistry after a survey of 10 and 11 years olds found one in six has experienced tooth decay.

There were also disparities between deprived and affluent areas, with experts warning “decay and deprivation go hand in hand”.

The oral health survey of 53,073 year 6 children in England was conducted by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.

For a generation, ministers have failed to grasp that decay and deprivation go hand in hand. This Government likes to talk about prevention but has offered nothing ... Our youngest patients are continuing to pay the price

Eddie Crouch, British Dental Association

It found 16% had experienced tooth decay, with those impacted experiencing decay in at least two teeth on average.

Schoolchildren living in the most deprived areas of the country were also more than twice as likely to suffer tooth decay (23%), compared to children in the least deprived areas (10%).

There were also geographical variations, with 23% of children in Yorkshire and the Humber reporting tooth decay compared to 12% in the South West.

Eddie Crouch, chairman of the British Dental Association (BDA), said: “For a generation, ministers have failed to grasp that decay and deprivation go hand in hand.

The Conservatives have left NHS dentistry to rot, and now our children's teeth are rotting too

Shadow health minister Preet Kaur Gill

“This Government likes to talk about prevention but has offered nothing. It has promised access for all but looks set to just throw money at target seats in rural England.

“Our youngest patients are continuing to pay the price.”

The Labour Party accused the Government of letting NHS dentistry “rot”.

Shadow health minister Preet Kaur Gill said: “The Conservatives have left NHS dentistry to rot, and now our children’s teeth are rotting too.

Tooth decay remains the most common reason for hospital admission in children aged between six and 10 years and the link between deprivation and decay is undeniable

Dr Helen Stewart, Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health

“It’s shocking that thousands of children have pain in their mouths that is so bad they are struggling to eat. No child should be suffering through toothache at school.”

Last month, Labour announced it would introduce measures such as supervised toothbrushing for young children in free breakfast clubs to tackle tooth decay.

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said issues like “tooth decay, stunted growth and stalling life expectancy should be consigned to the history books, but instead they’re the reality of Tory Britain”.

Ms Gill added: “Labour has a fully costed plan to rescue NHS dentistry by gripping the immediate crisis and reforming the service in the long-term.”

Poor oral health is not a trivial matter. It can lead to consistent pain, infections, altered sleep and eating patterns, recurring school absence, decreased well-being and even hospitalisation. Much more must be done to tackle this issue

Dr Helen Stewart, Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health

Dr Helen Stewart, officer for health improvement at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said “the state of children’s oral health in England is nothing short of egregious”.

“Tooth decay remains the most common reason for hospital admission in children aged between six and 10 years and the link between deprivation and decay is undeniable, with children living in lower-income areas more than twice as likely to have tooth decay than their more affluent peers.

“Poor oral health is not a trivial matter. It can lead to consistent pain, infections, altered sleep and eating patterns, recurring school absence, decreased well-being and even hospitalisation. Much more must be done to tackle this issue.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We want to improve oral hygiene and access to dental care for all children, regardless of where in England they live. Access to dentistry is improving, and last year around 800,000 more children saw an NHS dentist.

“We invest £3 billion each year to deliver NHS dentistry and we have announced plans to increase dental training places by 40%. We are also taking preventative measures, such as expanding water fluoridation schemes to reduce the number of children experiencing tooth decay.

“We have already taken steps to improve access and incentivise practices to deliver more NHS dental care, and will set out new measures in our Dental Recovery Plan in due course.”

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in