A call to arms: saving kids’ teeth

CDO Dr Sara Hurley explains the importance of a national strategy

Dr Sara Hurley, chief dental officer, has repeated her commitment for a national oral health strategy in the UK, calling for all dental, health and social care professionals to get involved.

Speaking at ‘Saving Kids’ Teeth – how we can make the most difference’, an event run by the Dental Wellness Trust in London last week, Dr Hurley spoke of three key areas that need to be tackled to establish good child oral health: access, training and education.

To do this, she argues, ‘we need the expertise from those in health and social care areas’ as well as the dental profession.

‘It’s not the dental professional that failed when a child needs three of their teeth extracting,’ she says, ‘it’s every other health professional that saw them pre-birth.’

Dr Hurley spoke of Smile4life, a national framework of oral health initiatives, that will aim to be introduced in September 2017. She adds: ‘Thirty million pounds is being spent on general anaesthetics every year – why is there not more outrage? This is an opportunity for you to lead Smile4life, raising the profile of initiatives to improve child oral health, hopefully with the support of other health professionals.’

Changing the face of it

Chaired by Sir Paul Beresford, the event brought together a range of dental professionals to discuss the ways in which children’s oral health can be improved. Professor Nairn Wilson presented a global perspective, highlighting the importance of a well-functioning dentition in all ages. Dental decay is the most common childhood disease in the world, with two-thirds of children remaining untreated. How long can this go on?

‘Dentistry has to become more integrated in social care and medicine if it is to improve these kind of statistics,’ says Professor Wilson. ‘We need a more holistic health provision.’

Dr Claire Stevens, consultant in paediatric dentistry and vice president of the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry, spoke of the essential ingredients for excellence in children’s oral health from a clinical perspective.

Visiting the dentist as soon as teeth begin to show or by age one needs to become the cultural norm

Dr Stevens addressed five ways she believes we can reduce bad oral health amongst children: establish a ‘prevention first’ strategy, reduce sugar intake, increase fluoride (which she describes as a ‘political hot potato’), improve access to dentistry for the public, and reinforce education.

‘Visiting the dentist as soon as teeth begin to show or by age one needs to become the cultural norm,’ she explains. ‘If we wait until kids go to school to check their teeth, we are leaving it too late.’

Personalised disease prevention

Dr Linda Greenwall talks about the Dental Wellness Trust

Professor Jenny Gallagher, research/honorary consultant in dental public health, patterns of oral health in England and explained that ‘significant improvements’ have been made in recent years – but certain areas need improving.

There was a clear social gradient in oral health surveys, with children in deprived areas more likely to have tooth decay. There was also a difference in ethnicity.

She called for a ‘personalised disease prevention’ and adds that dentistry in England has a ‘wonderfully diverse, professionalised team’ to help achieve that. The NHS ‘safety net’ is an important resource for parents and the profession, and believes that schools are the foundation of introducing change.

‘Schools are important for families during the week – especially for parents struggling to make ends meet,’ she notes. ‘There is scope for education here, but, equally, we need to start education at a much earlier age.’

A basic right

Oral health is a basic human right, but inequalities in health means that there is a global burden of disease – as pointed out by Dr Linda Greenwall, prosthodontist, cosmetic and restorative dentist, and founder of Dental Wellness Trust.

If we can’t educate the parents, why not start with the kids?

To address this, the Dental Wellness Trust helps promote dental health to less fortunate communities in the UK and abroad. Oral health initiatives like this can create positivity and enthusiasm for toothbrushing amongst children.

Dr Milad Sharood, also known as the ‘singing dentist’, helped close the presentations with an upbeat, positive look at the impact of social media and children’s attitudes to oral health. His Youtube videos, where he parodies a well-known song to encourage children and adults improve their oral hygiene, have had more than 30 million views.

‘If we can’t educate the parents,’ he says, ‘why not start with the kids?’

Sir Beresford ended the session with a call to arms for the dental profession: ‘Let’s work on our politicians, on fluoride, on schools and parents – together we can make a difference.’

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