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Action needed on child oral health

We have urged Stormont to address oral health inequalities in Northern Ireland as almost 100,000 children have required extractions since 2017.

The statistics revealed by Health Minister Robin Swann in response to MLAs questions show 99,369 children have had teeth extracted in a general dental or hospital setting in Northern Ireland over the past five years.

Between 2017 and 2020 over 5,000 young people were treated in hospital each year on average. This figure then dips, reflecting the impact of the pandemic where many young people were waiting for urgent dental treatment.

Most of these extractions, like many of the procedures carried out in children under 10, are typically linked to poor oral hygiene. The number one cause of tooth extractions in this age group is rot or tooth decay.

It is unacceptable that this number of children are being put under general anaesthetic due to rotten teeth. The high levels of tooth decay seen in children is directly linked to areas of higher deprivation, an issue we expect to worsen in the future as struggling families cannot prioritise buying toothpaste and toothbrushes.

Chair of NI Council, Roz McMullan said: "These latest combined statistics are really worrying, particularly when dental decay is highly distressing for children and their families. It affects a child's ability to socialise and causes physical pain and discomfort. Education is impacted as children cannot sleep due to pain that is completely preventable with the correct interventions from a younger age."

"We've been raising these issues for years: Government needs to step up and press forward with a co-ordinated approach to child oral health in the form of an updated Oral Health Strategy. It simply must be a priority".

The oral health divide is well-documented and fundamentally unfair, and the Government must invest in the future of children's health from an earlier age. The consequences of poor dental health in children can have a lifelong impact. Current initiatives do not go far enough, there must be a focus on nationwide promotion of better dental health in the future.