The BDA has renewed its call on government to integrate oral health programmes and education within early years settings, as well as within curricula for older children, after the UK ranked last in a new global poll on oral health promotion in schools.
The YouGov survey from 13 countries, results of which are published today to mark World Oral Health Day, asked parents with children aged 5–16 if their child's school provided lessons on good oral care. Tooth decay can affect a child's school readiness, social skills as well as potential for success later in life. Official surveys in the UK have indicated more than a quarter of teenagers say they are too embarrassed to smile or laugh due to the condition of their teeth.
UK schools ranked last in promoting good oral health. When asked if their child's school provided lessons on the importance of good oral care, only 29% of parents from the UK said this was the case, which was dramatically lower than the results from 12 other countries. This put the UK at the bottom of the list behind USA (53%), Australia (54%), Germany (69%), China (77%), Saudi Arabia (81%), Poland (84%), Morocco and Algeria (86%), Indonesia (87%), Brazil and India (91%), and Mexico (93%).
49% percent of parents from the UK also 'didn't know' how often their child's school gave lessons on good oral care, with parents from Australia and the USA not that far behind at 35% and 32%, respectively. This was in stark contrast to the results from Germany (19%), Saudi Arabia (12%), Poland (10%), China, Indonesia and Morocco (9%), Algeria (6%), India (5%), Brazil (3%) and Mexico (1%).
55% of UK parents backed schools teaching children about good oral care and 63% also recognised that parents play a role in oral health education.
While being almost wholly preventable, tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children in the UK, with paediatric extractions under general anaesthesia estimated to have cost the NHS at least £200 million since 2012. Public Health England has estimated at least 60,000 school days are missed every year because children need to have extractions.
The BDA advocates a properly resourced national oral health programme for children in England, to help set up children with good habits from an early age. Scotland's Childsmile and the Welsh Designed to Smile operate in both nursery and primary schools, offering a range of universal and targeted interventions, which have shaved millions off NHS treatment costs. Elements have been adopted by governments from Chile to Israel. England's equivalent, the Starting Well programme, lacks meaningful engagement within schools, has not been allocated any new funding and operates in a handful of local authorities.
The Department for Education consulted last year on including mandatory oral health education in the PHSE curriculum for primary and secondary schools. Last week, the BDA gave evidence to a London Assembly investigation into children's oral health, and called on the Mayor to throw his weight behind measures including school outreach programmes and supervised brushing. According to models from Public Health England brushing schemes can generate up to £3 return on investment for every pound spent through lower treatment costs. 10 London Boroughs have seen a deterioration in child tooth decay levels in recent years.
BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said:
"There is no reason why the UK should be at the bottom of the class for oral health education. The missing pieces are outreach, education and support, but sadly tried and tested approaches are not benefiting all our children.
"Scotland and Wales have pioneered programmes in nurseries and primary schools that have been adopted worldwide, and kids across England deserve the same effort. Simple ideas like supervised brushing can pay for themselves, but cash-strapped schools can't do it alone.
"Behind all the grim statistics on paediatric extractions are children in pain, who struggle to sleep, eat and learn, many of whom will grow up too embarrassed to smile.
"Good habits start early, and can set children up for life. We have a shared responsibility to protect our kids from decay, and getting dental care into schools should be part of the solution."
The BDA is currently promoting a range of resources designed by FDI World Dental Federation to deliver effective lessons about the importance of good oral health, and has partnered with the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) to improve the oral health of children attending nursery schools.