Join the fightFeatured Products Promotional Features
Posted by: The Probe 11th March 2020
Between 2017 and 2018 there were 59,314 recorded cases of tooth extraction in 0 to 19-year olds.[i] This indicates that the prevalence of dental caries is still a significant problem for the profession. So, what is being done about it?
As is stands, there are a number of initiatives currently in operation, including the nationwide Children’s Oral Health Improvement Programme Board (COHIPB). Created with the sole purpose of making sure every child is given the opportunity to grow up free from dental caries, COHIPB has five clear aims.[ii] Should these objectives pay off, the profession could begin to see both a reduction in the number of children with dental caries and a decrease in oral health inequalities. Nevertheless, having only been in operation since 2016 it may be too soon to judge the extent of the success – and indeed the profession won’t know for sure until further surveys have been carried out.
One initiative we do know for certain has seen marked success is the Dental Check by One campaign. Set up to encourage parents to take their children to the dentist before their first birthday, data shows that 2.5% more children aged between zero and two accessed a dentist in December 2018 compared to December in 2016.[iii] This is a positive sign that slowly but surely, the state of children’s oral health is improving, and a prime example that results can be achieved with hard work and determination.
Other national initiatives currently in operation include the Designed to Smile programme in Wales and Childsmile in Scotland, as well as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (or “Sugar Tax”) that came into force in 2018. The latter in particular has been integral in the battle to improve children’s oral health, as sugar consumption remains one of the leading causes of dental caries. Fortunately, a recent survey found that 53% of respondents said they support the tax, 6% of which said they were initially opposed to the idea but have come around.[iv] As for what’s being done on a more regional level, there has been huge participation from local authority commissioners across the country with a number of programmes currently taking place, including Healthy Teeth, Happy Smiles! in Leicester and Smile4Life in North West England. Not for profit initiative Teeth Team has also been widely praised for its work in bringing dental health education to primary schools facilitated within the City of Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire. Particularly since a 2019 survey revealed that only 29% of British children aged between 5 and 16 receive oral health education at school.[v]
Of course, it’s not just about nationwide or local level programmes, but the efforts being made in everyday practice by dental professionals. Educating children and their parents about oral health, diet and good hygiene habits continues to be absolutely essential to reduce the prevalence of childhood dental caries. As such, practices should utilise every available opportunity to pass on the relevant information and guidelines to patients, taking care to utilise a variety of communication methods to make sure the messages hit home. The key points being to brush teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste (1350-1500ppm), reduce the consumption of foods and drinks that contain sugar and regularly attend the dentist for check-ups – starting as soon as teeth appear.
Naturally, the earlier patients get the message the better, as ongoing poor oral hygiene and exposure to sugar will only result in more problems in the long run – as we’ve seen from the statistics on tooth extractions. Professionals can also do their bit in the way of prevention by providing non-invasive preventive treatments. Dental sealants, for instance, are known to be highly effective, with evidence showing that school-age children without sealants have almost three times more cavities than children with sealants.[vi] Fluoride treatment can be hugely effective too, but the problem is that if the dental caries is too advanced little can be done to save the tooth.
To help detect signs of the disease in the early stages, professionals can utilise the CALCIVIS imaging system. Suitable to use with children from the age of six, the revolutionary device uses a bioluminescent photoprotein to detect free calcium ions as they are released from actively demineralising tooth surfaces. This allows dental professionals to visualise ‘hot spots’ and indicate areas where intervention in favour of remineralisation may be required. With this type of individualised care and other preventive measures, it may be possible to stop dental caries from becoming a significant – and irreversible – problem for a number of children across the UK.
Children’s oral health has come a long way over the years thanks to new initiatives and technologies. As long as the profession continues to take an active approach and implement preventive measures in patients from a young age, there is the potential to further reduce childhood caries.
[i]GOV.UK. Hospital tooth extractions of 0-19 year olds. Published 6 March 2019. Accessed online 31 October 2019 at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hospital-tooth-extractions-of-0-to-19-year-olds
[ii] Public Health England. Children’s Oral Health Improvement Programme Board Action Plan 2016-2020. Accessed online 31 October 2019 at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/565325/action_plan_dental.pdf
[iii] Dental Check by One. ‘The impact of Dental Check by One. Published 3 June 2019. Accessed online 31 October 2019 at https://dentalcheckbyone.co.uk/the-impact-of-dental-check-by-one/
[iv] Simplyhealth. Consumer Oral Health Survey 2019. Accessed online 31 October 2019 at https://www.simplyhealth.co.uk/content/dam/simplyhealth/denplan/documents/simplyhealth-COHS-2019.pdf
[v] Oral Health Foundation. UK schools bottom of the class for oral health education. Published 22 March 2019. Accessed online 31 October 2019 at https://www.dentalhealth.org/news/uk-schools-bottom-of-the-class-for-oral-health-education
[vi] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dental Sealants Prevent Cavities. Accessed online 31 October 2019 at https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/dental-sealants/index.html