Nearly a third of five-year-olds in Islington may have tooth decay

Nearly a third of five-year-olds in Islington could have enamel decay or more serious dental problems, new figures suggest.

By Sonja Tutty, Data Reporter

A dentist at work
Photo: RADAR

The British Dental Association said the country’s oral health gap is widening yet ministers remain “asleep at the wheel”.

Data from the National Dental Epidemiology Programme for 2021 to 2022 show 144 of the 2,472 five-year-olds in Islington (5.8%) had their teeth examined in the 2021-22 school year.

The survey covered children attending mainstream, state-funded schools. All children under 18, or under 19 and in full time education, are exempt from dental charges.

Of those analysed, 32.4% had enamel decay or more serious decay to the layer of dentin under the enamel.

The figures show 24.7% of the five-year-olds examined in Islington had more serious dentinal decay.

This is the first year the programme has reported on enamel decay. Preventative measures can halt enamel decay from progressing to dentinal decay.

Eddie Crouch, British Dental Association chairman, said there has been no action to break the link between decay and deprivations.

He said: “Whether it’s providing access to basic care, rolling out tried and tested programmes in schools, or fluoridating water, our youngest patients require deeds not words.”

Across England, over 62,600 children were included in the analysis – representing about 9.1% of the England population at age five.

Of those analysed, 29.3% had dental decay and 23.7% had the more serious dentinal decay.

Regionally, the North West saw the highest level of tooth decay among five-year-olds at 38.7%, while the South West had the lowest proportion at 23.3%.

Of the five-year-olds examined in London, 28.5% had dental decay.

The programme’s report said: “The cause of dental decay is well understood and is related to the frequent exposure of teeth to fermentable carbohydrates, most commonly through eating and drinking sugary snacks and drinks.”

The report said while inequalities in those with tooth decay fell from 2008 to 2015, there have been no further reductions since then.

David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said untreated dental conditions are one of the most prevalent diseases affecting children’s ability to speak, eat, play and socialise.

Mr Fothergill said: “Oral health inequality is expected to grow owing to the scale of backlogs in primary care, which limit the chance to catch problems early.”

“The Government should recommit to vital measures to combat childhood obesity and diet-related ill health, such as the sugar levy which has helped cut down the consumption of drinks with high sugar content,” he added.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the number of children seen by NHS dentists increased by 43.6% in the last year.

They added: “We know tooth decay is often linked to deprivation and we are taking action to provide cost of living support.”

They said the number of dentists increased by over 500 last year and added the government is investing more than £3 billion in NHS dentistry.

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