Guest blog post written by Helen Clint (@dentalmummy) in association with the British Dental Association
Toothbrushing is a preventative habit that helps to prevent against largely avoidable dental diseases – namely tooth decay and gum disease. If you have a healthy diet, brush your teeth twice daily and visit your dentist regularly, you will minimise your risk of having oral health problems. Oral health is also part of general health and wellbeing. There is evidence to support a link to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, lung conditions and oral cancers.
Improving the oral health of children is a National priority, with an ambition that every child grows up free of tooth decay to help give them the best start in life. Being decay free contributes to the development of a healthy child and school readiness.
Tooth decay is the most common oral disease affecting children and young people in England, yet it is largely preventable, but only if individuals have the means to care for their teeth ie minimum essentials of a toothbrush and an appropriate fluoride toothpaste. Areas with higher levels of deprivation tend to have higher levels of tooth decay.
Children from the most deprived areas have more than TWICE the level of dental decay than those from the least deprived areas, and tooth decay can have a serious impact on a child’s physical and emotional health.
Almost a quarter of 5 year olds have tooth decay-meaning that 1 in 4 children will have tooth decay when they start school. Each child with tooth decay will have on average 3 to 4 teeth affected, making it likely that they will have dental extractions in a hospital setting under general anaesthetic. Children who have toothache or who need treatment may have to be absent from school- 60,000 school days are lost each year as a result of dental problems, not to mention the pain and suffering that children endure as a result of decayed teeth, impacting their learning and educational and social development. Parents may also have to take time off work to take their children for treatment, meaning that there is a financial implication for families in terms of lost wages.
Children who experience high levels of decay and are treated with fillings have teeth which are in a treatment cycle and may require complex maintenance as they age. It is a fact that infrequent brushing and lack of access to fluoride toothpaste result in poor oral health and dental decay.
Social inequalities are affecting the life chances of children’s development.
It’s frequently in the media about the state of our children’s teeth. Whilst there are numerous contributing factors to these statistics, such as overconsumption of sugar and a lack of awareness, I can’t help but feel one of the contributing factors is poverty and childhood poverty. This has been highlighted to me recently by The Hygiene Bank. They have a ‘high demand’ for toothbrushes and toothpaste. Regular brushing is important to look after your teeth-this was realised in the 19th century-so why in 2019 have people not got the means to look after their teeth? How are we allowing this to be the case? A toothbrush is not a luxury item-not cleaning your teeth effectively with an appropriately fluoridated toothpaste actually results in dental disease, and in many cases, a lifetime of dental treatment. This is a public health issue-there needs to be investment in prevention and ensuring that families have the means to access basic essentials such as toothbrushes and toothpastes, if they don’t, their oral health will suffer. I also can’t help but feel that this is acting as a barrier to individuals accessing dental care, if they fear embarrassment and being judged because of the situation they find themselves in-as healthcare professionals, we would never judge and are here to provide targeted help and support.
I am not naive enough to believe that if we provide everyone with a toothbrush and toothpaste that the problems of tooth decay and gum disease will go away. But what I do firmly believe is that everybody should be given the opportunity to own a toothbrush and toothpaste so that they can make the choice to clean their teeth, practice good oral hygiene habits and maintain their oral health. This should be a minimum-toothbrushes and toothpastes aren’t hygiene products-they are preventative healthcare essentials. Individuals and families need the basics, not just for hygiene but to meet their basic healthcare needs.
In addition to children suffering preventable pain and disease and having preventable operations, there is also a significant cost to an already strained and overstretched NHS. The average cost of a tooth extraction in a hospital setting for a child under 5 years is in the region of £850. In 2014 to 2015, hospital trusts spent £35 million on the extraction of multiple teeth for under 18s. Dental treatment is a significant cost, with the NHS in England spending £3.4 billion per year on all ages primary and secondary dental care.
As a mum and healthcare professional, I can’t do nothing about individuals and families not owning toothbrushes and toothpaste, when I know that dental disease is largely preventable and individuals are suffering unnecessarily, in many instances due to circumstances that they have been unfortunate to find themselves in. We have recently started supporting The Hygiene Bank where I work, and we are going to make a commitment to regular donations, including oral health products. They distribute the items locally and swiftly. The Hygiene Bank are making a difference and positive impact by assisting those in need, and I would encourage anybody, particularly my dental peers to support this worthy charity.