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1 in 4 Harrow children leaving primary school tooth decay, new data shows

Nearly a quarter of children in Harrow are leaving school with tooth decay, according to the latest government data. There were hundreds of hospital admissions in the borough to remove children’s decaying teeth last year, with experts calling the state of children’s health as ‘nothing short of egregious’.

The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities conducted a survey last year to assess the oral health of children in year 6. The crisis in NHS dentistry has left thousands of children unable to get an appointment when they need one, with more than two thirds of dental surgeries not currently accepting any children as patients.

In Harrow, the survey found that around 24.2 per cent of 10 to 11 year olds had experienced issues with rotten, filled, or missing teeth, compared with 13.5 per cent in London, reported having tooth decay.

Figures also reveal an estimated 320 total hospital admissions in Harrow for children’s tooth extraction in the year to March 2023 – 230 of which were for tooth decay. Overall, the rate of tooth extractions in Harrow was 499 per 100,000 children –  above the national rate of 360 per 100,000.

Officer for health improvement at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), Dr Helen Stewart, called the state of children’s oral health in England ‘nothing short of egregious’. She said the link between deprivation and decay is “undeniable”, as children living in lower-income areas were more than twice as likely to have tooth decay than their more affluent peers.

A London Borough of Harrow spokesperson said: “We are actively promoting good oral health in children from the earliest opportunity. This starts with free toothbrushing kits at a child’s health visitor check. We also offer supervised toothbrushing sessions in schools and early years settings. Information sessions also take place across schools, nurseries and the voluntary and community sector.”

They added: “The health and wellbeing of our children will always be a priority. We know there is always more we can do so we are also collaborating with Queen Mary University of London on research into why tooth decay is so prevalent so we can work on other ways to help.”

The survey showed that 16.2 per cent of children across England had experienced tooth decay, with those impacted having it in at least two teeth on average. Across NHS hospitals in England, there were 47,581 tooth extractions for patients under 19 years old. Some 66 per cent of these extractions – or 31,165 – were down to a primary diagnosis of tooth decay, up 17 per cent from the previous 12 months.

The Government’s dental plan, launched earlier this year, has also come under fire, with the British Dental Association doubting whether it will generate any new appointments, given there are no measures to improve capacity within the service.

Eddie Crouch, chairman of the British Dental Association, said ministers have ‘failed to grasp that decay and deprivation go hand in hand’. He said: “This Government likes to talk about prevention but has offered nothing. It has promised access for all but looks set to just throw money at target seats in rural England. Our youngest patients are continuing to pay the price.”

Labour has pledged to launch a Dentistry Rescue Plan in government to ‘get the service back on its feet’. The party will roll out supervised toothbrushing in schools for 3–5-year-olds, targeted at the areas with highest childhood tooth decay.

The scheme will cost £9 million per year, which the party claim is ‘dwarfed’ by the estimated £64.3m that it costs for child tooth extractions in hospital. The plan also includes funding for 700,000 extra urgent and emergency appointments, and reform of the NHS dental contract.

Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Harrow East, Primesh Patel, said: “Another five years of the Tories will see NHS dentistry gone for good. Only Labour will restore NHS dentistry so everyone who needs an NHS dentist can see one. Prevention is better than cure, so Labour will put children first and make sure kids’ teeth are well looked after.”

The Department of Health and Social Care pointed out that £3 billion is invested each year to deliver NHS dentistry and plans have been announced to increase dental training places by 40 per cent. A spokesperson said: “Access to dentistry is improving, and last year around 800,000 more children saw an NHS dentist. We are also taking preventative measures, such as expanding water fluoridation schemes to reduce the number of children experiencing tooth decay.”