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This is what oral health inequalities look like

Blog Author Peter Ward

Blog Date 12/05/2016

 

The Member of Parliament for South West Surrey has reason to be cheerful this week.

It appears that his constituency, which cuts through the leafy borough of Waverley, is now at the top of the premier league for children’s oral health.

On Tuesday Public Health England published their data on tooth decay among 5 year olds. Officials seemed pleased to report that decay rates are down by a few percentage points since the last survey in 2012.

It’s modest progress at best, in a fight against an entirely preventable disease. And it still means that 1 in 4 children in England will enter primary school with tooth decay.

But what’s perhaps most troubling are the persistent inequalities. Decay rates across England vary enormously, along the usual lines, rich and poor, urban and rural.

And it adds up to a child born in Blackburn and Darwen being nearly seven times more likely to experience decay than one born in Waverley.


 

The highest decay rates in England

Local Authority

5-year-old population
(mid 2014)

% 5 year olds with tooth decay

Blackburn with Darwen

2,227

55.7

Salford

3,166

51

Oldham

3,307

50.9

Leicester

4,895

45

Hyndburn

1,080

43.5

 


 

The lowest decay rates in England 

Local Authority

5-year-old population
(mid 2014)

% 5 year olds with tooth decay

Waverley

1,559

8.2

South Norfolk

1,553

8.6

Test Valley

1,492

9.4

Derbyshire Dales

649

9.5

Cannock Chase

1,168

9.8

 

South West Surrey’s MP is none other than Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. And it’s the children of his constituents that are now the most likely to reach their 6th  birthdays free from decay.

At the BDA we think all children deserve the best start.

We have seen decades of ministerial indifference when it comes to oral health. Yet over in Wales and Scotland governments are delivering pioneering preventive programmes that put the progress we’ve made in England to shame.

England’s tooth decay epidemic isn’t inevitable, but concrete progress won’t happen by accident.

It will require government to provide consistent messages to parents, the food industry and the health professions. It will involve targeted effort in areas most in need. And it will mean turning the page on a failed NHS contract system that tells dentists tick boxes and targets are more important than prevention.

Oral health shouldn’t be a postcode lottery.  It’s time for a strategy and a contract that can put prevention first.

 

Peter Ward

Chief Executive