Despite giving assurances, the British government has decided not to continue with dental screening checkups in primary schools. A spokesperson for the Department of Health told reporters that the screening was ‘ineffective.’
New guidelines were drawn up in 2007 removing any obligation on PCTs to provide a dental screening service in schools. The Conservative Party prior to the last election condemned the move stating they would re-introduce the system. They promised that every 5 year old would get access to dental checkups in school.
In fact, the party went further – pledging that all children would be warned about the dangers of eating and drinking too many sugary foodstuffs and would be taught to brush their teeth properly.
However, the health minister, Simon Burns confirmed the u-turn during a health committee meeting. He told MPs: “We are committed to improving the oral health of school children but have decided against the reintroduction of school screening checks.”
Mr. Burns added: “In 2006, the National Screening Committee (NSC) advised that the routine dental screening of children in primary schools was ineffective in improving children’s oral health. The NSC found that children who were identified as requiring treatment were not accessing a general dental practice where it could be provided.”
The Labour opposition condemned the u-turn. The Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham said: “This is the latest in a long line of NHS broken promises from the prime minister. David Cameron made the pledge in opposition to show the Tories had changed, but his failure to keep his word yet again goes to the heart of his personal credibility.”
However, the Health Secretary received support from an unlikely source – the British Dental Association. Dr Peter Bateman, the chairman of the BDA’s Salaried Dentists Committee told reporters: “We are pleased to see the Department of Health restate its commitment not to introduce school-based dental screening. Dentists know that such screening does not help to reduce oral health inequalities, and early in the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill the BDA campaigned for this ineffective measure to be set aside.”
He added: “Far more effective are targeted schemes such as Manchester Smiles and Childsmile that seek to engage the child population with intervention and education. It is these approaches that government and commissioners must focus on developing further.”
This view, however, contrasts sharply with Andrew Lansley’s own opinion, when he was shadowing the then Labour government. He is reported to have said that combating children’s dental health was extremely important. As such 680,000 children would have benefitted from the £17 million primary scheme.