Children in west London will soon be able to get a fluoride varnish at their local supermarket while their parents do the shopping, under a radical plan being hatched by the Department of Health.
Health Minister Ann Keen intends to post an extended-duty dental nurse at a branch of Asda in Hounslow – an area with higher than average child tooth decay – as a way of boosting oral health among hard-to-reach families.
It is hoped the groundbreaking new service, the first of its kind in England, will be offered free of charge to children up to the age of 18.
Fluoride varnish, a highly concentrated form of fluoride that is usually applied to the teeth with a brush, is used to remineralise the tooth surface and help prevent decay.
It is said to cost about 30p per application, with reapplications advised three or four times a year for the youngest children.
The Department’s pilot project, which is being developed with Asda, Hounslow Primary Care Trust and the British Dental Association, will initially be launched with a single nurse operating from a pharmacy within a single store, but could be extended to other areas later.
The PCT is expected to discuss the plan with local schools and dentists so that ongoing care can be arranged.
If successful, it could eventually lead to a range of treatments being provided in non-dental environments.
Labour MP Ms Keen, in whose Brentford and Isleworth constituency Hounslow lies, said the scheme had yet to be finalised but ‘further discussions’ were scheduled and she expected it to be up and running later this year.
The minister said: ‘This is about prevention in all areas, and in particular for those people who maybe would not normally look at prevention.
‘It is about change and innovation and I am always looking for new ways for people to access healthcare within the community. I think this is a very positive way forward.’
According to Department of Health figures, children in Hounslow suffer from worse than average tooth decay.
In 2007, the average number of decayed, missing and filled teeth in children aged five in the borough was 2.1, compared with the England average of 1.5.
The move to extend the use of fluoride varnish follows a big push for fluoridation of the water supply by the government.
In March, Prime Minister Gordon Brown told MPs that adding fluoride to the UK’s tap water supplies was ‘a good thing’ for British teeth.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson has pledged financial support to help pay the capital costs of adding the compound to the water where communities want it.
The cash, £14 million per year for the next three years, was welcomed in February by health authorities in Southampton and Manchester, the areas most likely to become the first to go for fluoridation in more than two decades.
Just 10% of the UK’s opulation currently drink fluoridated water.
The last area to fluoridate was Sandwell in the West Midlands in 1986.