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Dentists: epidemic of decay demands a serious response from Government

The British Dental Association has said the surge in extractions among children illustrates the clear limits of the Government’s recent recovery plan for dentistry, and the need to double down on access and prevention.

Analysis by the Local Government Association of data published today by the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) shows that last year 120 hospital operations to remove rotten teeth in children and young people every working day.

There were a total 47,581 extractions of multiple teeth in under-18s in England in 2022/23 at a cost of £64.3 million. Total numbers are up 17% on the previous year. The vast majority of these extractions are due to tooth decay, which is largely preventable.

The BDA warn that ongoing access problems are fuelling this epidemic. It has said it is not enough to pledge to host just one consultation on water fluoridation in the North East and that front loaded investment in preventive schemes must be taken forward with urgency.

England lacks a dedicated national oral health improvement programme to tackle childhood decay. Childsmile and Designed2Smile have secured record breaking reductions in decay, in Scotland and Wales respectively. The BDA warn England’s new Smile for Life programme looks like a poor relation of its devolved cousins, with real question marks over funding, and the scale and scope of any universal and targeted elements.

The professional body has also expressed deep concern over the continued monstering of supervised brushing, following the policy being taken up by opposition parties. Health Secretary Victoria Atkins told Times Radio “Labour seems to think that no parent can be trusted to brush their children’s teeth. We do not take that approach. We say the overwhelming majority of parents do a great job looking after their children.”

“For those children that are struggling, this is where the fluoride brushing dental teams into reception class...really counts because we are targeting it very, very particularly on areas where there are high, high rates of oral ill health.”

The BDA says political point scoring risks closing the door on tried-and-tested policy options. Claims over the ineffectiveness of the schemes in schools are repeated within the new recovery plan, despite the Government’s own modelling showing the intervention more than pays for itself. Ministers failed to keep commitments to consult on expansion of schemes in England by the end of 2020.

The BDA was a strong advocate of the sugar levy and has lamented the dither and delay over action on the labelling and marketing of junk foods, and the absence of mandatory targets for the food industry on reducing sugar levels.

BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said:

“The oral health gap is widening for our youngest patients, and it won’t be halted by holding another consultation.

“Ministers are trying to turn supervised brushing into a political football. They need to grow up, and double down on tried-and-tested programmes.

“That means real commitment and ambition, comprehensively funded.

“So, the precise opposite of the plans we’ve seen this week.”