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The Alarming Rise of DIY Dentistry on Children: A Looming Crisis

CEO Tinh Phung
NHS dental care is only one part of the problem (Photo: Cravetiger/Getty Images) Imagine hospital wards filled with young children undergoing tooth extractions. It may sound like a scene from a horror movie, but sadly,...

Dental hygienist working on the girl teeth. NHS dental care is only one part of the problem (Photo: Cravetiger/Getty Images)

Imagine hospital wards filled with young children undergoing tooth extractions. It may sound like a scene from a horror movie, but sadly, this is the reality in many hospitals across England. Decaying teeth have become the leading cause of hospital admissions for children aged six to ten. Shockingly, pediatric dentists have even had to remove all 20 baby teeth from children as young as two years old.

Parents, desperate to provide relief to their children, have resorted to DIY dentistry at home. With untrained eyes, they attempt to fix their children's dental issues using products purchased online, such as teeth-filling materials or gels for toothache relief. However, these attempts often do more harm than good, leading to further dental complications and the need for tooth extraction.

It's not just DIY dentistry that parents are turning to. Many are seeking help from charities that visit their children's schools because they can't access NHS dental care or afford private treatment. The implications of neglecting children's oral health are far-reaching. Kids suffering from toothache may experience difficulties eating, sleeping, and concentrating, impacting their overall well-being and school readiness. Shockingly, NHS data reveals that 60,000 school days are missed each year due to children being hospitalized for tooth extractions.

But how did we reach this alarming state? While all children are entitled to free NHS dental care, the wider crisis in dentistry has made it difficult for patients of all ages to access treatment. The British Dental Association reported that half of dentists had reduced their commitment to providing NHS treatment due to objections to the current NHS contract. Furthermore, 90% of dental practices across the UK were no longer accepting new adult NHS patients, and 80% were not accepting children. This leaves families without essential dental care for their children.

The repercussions of poor oral health in children can be severe. Infections, facial swelling, and even sepsis can occur. Moreover, the social stigma associated with dental issues labels children as "dirty" or "poor," leading to long-term psychological effects. This situation is unacceptable in a modern society and resembles the hardships of the Victorian era.

Access to NHS dental care is just one piece of the puzzle. Addressing oral health inequalities requires a comprehensive plan that targets those most in need and aims to reduce health disparities. The Labour Party has proposed supervised toothbrushing in schools, a move applauded by the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD). This initiative, already successful in Scotland and certain parts of England, has proven to be cost-effective and beneficial.

School nurses, with their expertise in public health, are uniquely positioned to support holistic approaches to oral health. Unfortunately, recent years have seen a reduction of around 30% in their capacity due to public health budget cuts. However, they have historically worked in collaboration with schools and parents to promote dental hygiene, nutrition, and overall well-being. Expanding the role of school nurses and providing the necessary resources can make a significant difference.

Doncaster, a city with alarmingly high rates of tooth decay among children, has taken a multi-layered approach to tackle this issue. Their public health team, alongside school nurses, supports toothbrushing clubs, educational programs for children and parents, and referrals for vulnerable children. By addressing not just dental hygiene but also access to nutritious food and dental care, they are striving to improve children's oral health outcomes.

While it's crucial to ensure universal access to dental care, bridging the oral health gap requires a broader perspective. Factors like affordability, nutrition, and education play significant roles in children's oral health. A targeted plan that addresses the root causes of health inequalities is essential.

It's time to take action and prioritize the oral health of our children. By implementing comprehensive strategies, providing necessary resources, and raising awareness, we can prevent this crisis from escalating further. Everyone deserves a bright and healthy smile, regardless of their background or circumstances.

For advice and support, refer to the BSPD guide.