Tooth decay is found in fifth of five-year-olds

Tooth decay in youngsters.
Tooth decay in youngsters.

A fifth of children starting primary school in Northumberland have suffered from tooth decay, new figures from Public Health England show.

And dozens of children in the area have had teeth extracted – often requiring a trip to hospital and an operation under general anaesthetic.

With rates of tooth decay varying wildly for children in different parts of the country, dental experts have called the situation a ‘tragedy’.

The results were based on a survey of 1,660 five-year-olds in Northumberland in the 2016-17 academic year, and 96,000 nationally.

The survey found tooth decay in 22.6% of children – suggesting that around 760 five-year-olds in the county may be suffering with dental problems.

The rate was lower than that across the rest of the North East, with 23.9% of five-year-olds in the region experiencing tooth decay – either present at the time of the investigation, or evident because of missing or filled teeth.

Those children in Northumberland who were affected by tooth decay often had widespread issues, with multiple teeth affected.

The percentage of children in the sample who have needed a tooth out – 3.4% – suggests that around 110 children in Northumberland had required an extraction, aged five or younger.

As high-street dentists are unable to administer a general anaesthetic, this normally requires a hospital visit.

Nationally, over 160,000 five-year-olds had tooth decay, and more than 17,000 children had teeth extracted – costing the NHS in England over £36million a year.

The highest rate of tooth decay was in Pendle, Lancashire, where nearly half of children had evidence of decay. In Horsham, West Sussex, just 4.4% of five-year-olds had tooth decay.

Decay was found in the front teeth of 3.8% of five-year-olds, suggesting an over-reliance on the use of a feeding bottle.

Nationally, oral health among five-year-olds has been improving since the report was first issued in 2008, when 31% of children had experienced tooth decay – a figure which has dropped to 23%.

Source of tooth decay data: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/oral-health-survey-of-5-year-old-children-2017

In response to the figures of tooth decay in children, the chairman of the British Dental Association, Mick Armstrong, said: “It’s a tragedy that a child’s oral health is still determined by their postcode and their parents’ incomes.

“Sadly, while cavities are almost wholly preventable, official indifference means this inequality gap shows little sign of narrowing.

“To date, England has seen little more than token efforts from ministers, and not put in a penny of new money.

“In the face of austerity, some farsighted councils have made big strides, but their successes are not being bottled or shared.

“The NHS will keep spending millions extracting baby teeth in overstretched hospitals until policymakers step up and grasp the nettle.

“When programmes and policies designed in Britain have become the envy of the world, it’s perverse that children in England are not benefiting from them.”