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Children missed 15 million school days in the past year due to dental problems


  Posted by: Dental Design      6th December 2023

At least one-in-nine children have missed school due to dental problems, with a total of more than 15 million school days missed in the past year, according to data from leading dental provider Denplan, part of Simplyhealth. 

Over a quarter (27%) of parents whose child required emergency dental treatment say their child has missed a half day (3-4 hours) due to emergency dental treatment with one-in-10 reporting full school days were missed due to this, finds Denplan’s Oral Healthcare Report. The data comes as children are reportedly missing more school than ever before. 

The research is from one of the most comprehensive surveys into habits and attitudes in UK dentistry surveying over 5,000 adults on their dental habits and those of their family.  

Today, Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, announces a £100,000 donation to its charity partner Dentaid, which will expand its oral health education programme, BrightBites, to a minimum of 90,000 UK school-aged children.  

Targeting schools, nurseries and clubs for low-income families, volunteers will deliver in-person sessions, with a range of resources including toothbrushing charts, stickers, recipes and healthy teeth leaflets, to educate and inform children about oral health.  

The partnership will also provide teacher resources designed to work alongside the curriculum. And every child will also be provided with a toothbrush and toothpaste to continue their positive oral health journey. 

The BrightBites programme is needed more than ever before. The new data finds a quarter (24%) of parents report their children had not seen a dentist in the past year, including one in 14 (7%) reporting their children had never seen a dentist or haven’t got a dentist. Dentists typically recommend children see a dental professional as soon as their teeth start to appear, so they can provide advice and assess how often they should be seen. 

The repercussions of lack of care are apparent in reported dental health concerns – a sixth (16%) of parents say their children have had a tooth cavity and around one in 10 (9%) report more than one cavity. A cavity is where the tooth has decayed due to build-up of bacteria on the surface, causing damage to the tooth over time, if preventative measures are not taken.  

One in 20 parents report their child has been hospitalised for tooth extraction, which is currently the number one reason for child hospital admissions in the UK. Rates of admission in the most deprived communities are almost 3.5 times that of those living in affluent ones.  

Catherine Rutland, dentist and Clinical Director at Denplan and Simplyhealth, said: “This data is a sad reflection of the state of oral health for children across the country, and the damaging consequences a lack of preventative oral healthcare can have. The research must be viewed in the context of the cost-of-living and ongoing issues around access to NHS dentistry. We encourage the government to start prioritising the oral health of the nation and the vital role dentistry plays. 

“We know that over half of private dentists are treating some children for free. Many dentists – whether private or not – would like the option to see children and vulnerable people in an NHS capacity. Due to the current restraints of the NHS contracts in England and Wales, this is not possible. Private and mixed dentistry has a vital role to play in supporting patients. We’ve got to work together to reform the contracts and ensure children are getting the care they need.” 

Andy Evans, CEO of Dentaid, said: “Oral health education is a key part of everything we do at Dentaid The Dental Charity. This fantastic partnership with Denplan will help us expand our BrightBites programme and deliver these important messages about diet, toothbrushing, teeth and the importance of regular dental care to 90,000 children across the UK.  Many of our projects see us working with families at highest risk of social exclusion and we want to particularly focus our efforts on helping these children to learn about the importance of good oral health so they can get into good habits that will help them keep their teeth and mouths healthy.” 

Reasons to smile 

Despite the shocking data revealing how some children are suffering, the report found that most parents were aware of the importance of looking after their children’s teeth: 87% of respondents agreed that good oral health habits in childhood improve lifelong oral health and more than eight in ten (84%) parents say their children brush their teeth at least twice a day.  

Parents who regularly visit their dentist were most likely to have taken a child in for check-ups in the last six to 12 months (75%), though almost half of those who never visit the dentist themselves had still taken a child. 

Over half of private dentists (51%) have offered children free dental services, according to Finlayson Media Communications’s Dentistry Census 2023.  

Top tips for looking after your children’s teeth 

  • Teach your children how to brush from as soon as they get their milk teeth. 
  • Always use a fluoride-based toothpaste. 
  • Practice brushing for two minutes by setting a timer or playing a two-minute song (e.g. Blippi’s here). 
  • Take your child to your dentist appointment with you as soon as they have baby teeth, so they become familiar with the setting. The dentist can then assess how regularly they need to visit. 

Denplan’s 2023 Oral Healthcare Report was published on 31 October and is available to read here

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