Abolish the postcode lottery to good dental health, say children’s doctors

girl brushing teeth

A survey by The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and Mumsnet reveals difficulty accessing free oral healthcare and lack of awareness of dental checks for one-year-olds

Children’s doctors are calling for councils to give every child an equal opportunity to good dental health as a survey of 1,000 Mumsnet users reveals that around one quarter had problems accessing free NHS dental care. Only half of those who responded also said they were aware of official advice recommending they take their child to the dentist before their first birthday.

The survey, conducted by Mumsnet for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), assessed parents’ knowledge of children’s oral health and experience of accessing dental care. It found:

  • Only 50% knew that the NHS recommends taking your child to a dentist before their first birthday
  • 23% had problems accessing free NHS dental care, either for themselves during pregnancy and in the early days of motherhood, or for their children.

The RCPCH advises parents to:

  • Swap fizzy drinks for water
  • Brush your child’s teeth twice daily for two minutes at a time with fluoride toothpaste
  • Ensure your child visits the dentist by their first birthday.

Over a third (41%) of five-year-olds every year are diagnosed with tooth decay and tooth decay is the most common single reason why children aged five to nine require admission to hospital.

These issues have prompted calls from the RCPCH to prioritise children’s oral health in their Health and Wellbeing strategies for areas where there are significant oral health problems. To improve improve outcomes and reduce health inequalities, the RCPCH propose to use tried and tested schemes like supervised tooth brushing in nurseries and Brushing for Life packs – containing toothbrushes, fluoride toothpaste and information on dental hygiene.

It is known that:

  • Every 10 minutes a child in England has a rotten tooth removed in hospital
  • Five-year-olds living in the most deprived areas of England are at least three times more likely to experience severe tooth decay than children living in the most affluent areas – limited access to healthy, nutritious food and missing out on healthcare is to blame.

Dr Elizabeth O'Sullivan of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said:
“Tooth decay is a horrible condition which causes toothache, cavities to develop in the teeth and sometimes abscesses. To treat it, children often have to have their decayed tooth extracted and this is an expensive business, costing the NHS around £50m for those under the age of 19. The prospect of having an operation is often scary for children and the risks associated with them should not be underplayed.

“Currently, there is a postcode lottery in children’s oral health with some areas providing high-quality interventions and awareness campaigns while others do not. This means there are pockets of children up and down the country missing out on services that are provided free of charge to others in neighbouring towns and cities. Surely it is easier to prevent poor dental health rather than try and treat it when it’s too late? That’s why we are calling for all local authorities to show they take children’s dental health seriously by prioritising it in areas where the oral health young people is a significant problem.”

Rowan Davies, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mumsnet, said: “Finding out that your child has bad oral health or needs a filling can be a really disappointing and even embarrassing moment for parents; it’s even worse if the problem has been compounded by difficulty accessing care. Together with a good diet and regular brushing, the availability of affordable dentistry is an important part of the puzzle.”