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Decay: England’s children are being let down on prevention

10 May 2016

The British Dental Association (BDA) has commented on the modest improvements in children’s oral health revealed in new data from Public Health England.

The latest survey shows that one in four children in England are still living with tooth decay. 75.2% of five-year olds were free from visually obvious decay in 2014-15, compared to 72.1% in 2011-12, and 69.1% for 2007-8 – a total fall of 6.1 percentage points from 2007-15.

Wales recently reported the largest improvement on record in dental decay among five-year olds, with a Cardiff University study showing rates fell by 12 percentage points since 2007, from 47.6% to 35.4%. Scotland has seen decay rates among young children fall from 42% to 32% in the same period. The BDA has argued England’s national policymakers have not had the same appetite for innovation shown by devolved governments.

Wales operates Designed to Smile, a preventive programme targeting young children in areas of high deprivation. Childsmile, a similar pioneering effort from the Scottish government has reportedly cut £5 million off treatment costs. There is no equivalent national scheme in England.

A recent survey of NHS dentists revealed that 83 per cent felt the widely discredited NHS contract system, based on rigid government targets, was holding them back from preventive work.

As the number of children facing hospital tooth extractions continues to mount, rising from 32,457 procedures in 2010-11 to 40,970 in 2014-15, dentists’ leaders have pressed the government to provide a strategy and a contract geared around prevention.

Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, Chair of the BDA's General Dental Practice Committee said:

“We are seeing modest improvements in oral health, not the breakthrough our children deserve. We are paying the price for decades of government indifference, which has left persistent oral health inequalities and an ever-growing number of kids facing extractions in hospital.

"It is a scandal that one in four young children are now living with decay. Sadly Westminster has been unwilling to embrace innovation or break with the failed government targets that have held back a genuinely preventive approach to oral health.   

“It is now imperative that ministers provide a strategy and a contract that can put prevention first.”

About the BDA

The British Dental Association (BDA) is the professional association and trade union for dentists in the UK. It represents dentists working in general practice, in community and hospital settings, in academia and research, and in the armed forces, and includes dental students. The BDA promotes members’ interests, advances the science, arts and ethics of dentistry, and contributes towards improving the nation's oral health.

For further information, please contact the BDA's media team on 0207 563 4145/46 or visit the BDA's news centre. You can also follow news from the BDA on Twitter. Membership packages reflect the varied needs of dentists.