The Dentist Magazine.

BDA praises ChildSmile but calls on government to do more to close inequalities gap

Published: 14/11/2017

The BDA is pleased that the latest figures from the National Dental Inspection Programme of Scottish Primary 7 children 2017 show a continuing improvement in children’s dental health – overall 77 per cent of Primary 7 children (aged 11) were found to be free from tooth decay experience, an increase of 2 per cent from the last time this age cohort was inspected in 2015. 

The BDA strongly supports the longstanding investment in a national prevention programme in children’s oral health, ChildSmile. However,  the dentists’ organisation is concerned that almost a quarter of our children (23 per cent), who will start secondary education next year, have decay in their adult (permanent) teeth.

Although there are more children from the most deprived backgrounds who are free from tooth decay – up 1.6 per cent from 64 per cent in 2015 – this is almost exactly the same change as in the least deprived group, meaning that inequalities have not been reduced. 

The BDA notes that the gap that exists between the most deprived and most affluent Scottish children has remained unchanged in the past four years. The absolute difference (21 per cent) in children who are free from caries in 2017 is exactly the same as it was in 2013 and 2015. 

The BDA calls on the government to do more to address this persistent inequality since the overall trend since 2005 (when surveys of this age cohort started), indicates that the level of improvement is levelling off. If the government adopts the radical proposals to curb obesity and tooth decay in a consultation launched today, this would be a major step in the right direction, the BDA believes. 

Robert Donald, chair of the BDA's Scottish Dental Practice Committee, said, "Scotland is leading the way in investing in children’s dental health. The huge improvement we have seen in youngsters’ teeth since the millennium is testament to investing in an early years’ prevention scheme, which operates in our nurseries and schools.

“Undoubtedly ChildSmile has saved many young children from distress, days out of education, and ultimately avoidable dental treatment.

“However, despite this improvement Scotland is still struggling to close the gap on persistent inequalities that exist between children from the most deprived backgrounds and the most affluent.

“The Scottish Government appears to recognise that more needs to be done to tackle unacceptable levels of obesity – it must also be aware that too many children from our most disadvantaged communities still bear the burden of tooth decay, a largely preventable disease.

“As the benefits for this group appear to be tapering off, nothing must be left off the table to close this gap whether it be expanding the soft drinks levy to cover all sugared drinks, banning advertising that appeals to children to make it easier for parents to take control of healthy eating choices, or looking again at targeted community fluoridation where appropriate.”