25 Mar

New figures show lack of progress in tackling childhood tooth decay

New figures released by Public Health England (PHE) show a worrying lack of progress in tackling childhood dental decay. 

Statistics from PHE suggest that the proportion of children with tooth decay is the same as in 2017. In 2019, 23% of 5-year-olds had signs of tooth decay.

The figure was virtually the same two years earlier, indicating that there has been very little in the way of improvement in oral health standards.

In light of the statistics, the Oral Health Foundation has called for a united approach to combating decay. Dr Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive, said that it was crucial to tackle “heart-breaking” levels of decay among children in England and called for dental professionals, ministers, councils, charities and parents to work together to improve standards and reduce rates of decay. 

Over the course of the last decade, there have been significant improvements in dental health, but recently, rates that were declining have stalled. Dr Carter is encouraging initiatives to promote healthy eating and raise awareness of the impact of excessive sugar consumption and to teach children and parents about the importance of twice-daily brushing. Decay is the most common cause of hospital admissions among children across the UK, but it is preventable in the vast majority of cases. In England, poor oral hygiene and sugar-rich diets are major contributing factors to poor standards of oral health. 

Dr Carter has also backed water fluoridation schemes, which are currently under review by local authorities. Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral, which helps to lower the risk of cavities and decay by protecting the tooth enamel. Fluoride is added to the water supplies in some parts of the country, but dental experts believe that thousands more children could benefit. Dentists are particularly keen to see schemes rolled out in deprived areas, where rates of decay tend to be higher than average. At present, less than 10% of the population has access to fluoridated water supplies.