Children’s dental health gap ‘has widened’

Dental experts are urging the government to focus on the prevention of dental decay in under fives following a new report into children’s health.

A study on child health in England found that dental health among the under fives is declining and that the overall health gap between the richest and poorest children has become wider.

Now the British Dental Health Foundation is calling for more awareness in spearhead areas following the report, published by the Audit Commission.

Figures show around 150,000 more children have decayed, missing and filled teeth in spearhead areas compared with the rest of the country – a gap which has increased dramatically in the last 10 years.

It showed that children living in disadvantaged areas are 54% more likely to live in households in which parents do not work and face poorer health conditions than under fives living in less deprived areas.

Out of these children, one in five have been judged to have poor dental health.

The commission calculates that, since 1998, £10.9 billion has been spent on initiatives that directly or indirectly aim to improve the health of children aged under five.

The report found that local policies for children vary widely, and that minority groups are failing to access Sure Start Children’s Centres – on which the government has spent £7.2 billion – because they are unaware of the service or feel they are being judged by health professionals.

Chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter said the Foundation aims to reduce the number of children suffering from oral health deficiencies.

He said: ‘Dental disease is the most common preventable childhood disease and good education at an early age can have a significant impact.

‘Parents are very much responsible for helping their children to develop a good oral health routine and ensure regular visits to the dentist.’

But a Department of Health spokesperson denied there was a problem.

He said: ‘Although addressing inequalities in oral health is challenging and, until recently, improvements in five year old children had levelled out (not worsened) the overall picture is very encouraging. 

‘In our view, the key age for making comparison is age 12 by when the children have their permanent teeth. Between 1983 and 2003 the average number of decay, missing and filled teeth (dmft) in children aged 12 fell from 3.5 to 0.7, while the number of children without decay increased from 50% to 62%.

‘This improvement cannot have failed to benefit children in spearhead areas. Oral health in this age group is among the best in all European countries.’

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