There would be free school dental checks for every five-year-old in the UK if the Conservative Party gets into power.
That was the pledge this week with their plans to plough £17 million into the proposal.
Children would be shown how to brush their teeth properly and warned of the dangers of eating too many sweets and drinking sugary drinks.
But experts at the British Dental Health Foundation, although welcoming the emphasis on prevention and children’s dentistry, say the Tories’ planned £17 million spend on school check-ups would be better spent on effective preventive measures.
Department of Health guidelines published in 2007 removed the obligation on primary care trusts to provide dental screening to schoolchildren.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: ‘Every child at the age of five when they go to school will have dental screening. We want to change the contract, so that dentists have greater incentives for preventive work. I’m afraid what we’ve seen is a two-thirds increase in nine years in child tooth decay.’
He added: ‘Labour’s neglect of preventive dentistry for our children over the course of more than a decade is shameful. It is vital to highlight any dental problems early in a child’s life and to reinforce the importance of good preventative care and advice.’
The cost will come from existing NHS budgets, and children with serious dental problems will be referred to an NHS dentist.
But the Government has disputed the Tories’ figures and said the UK had the lowest rate of tooth decay among 12-year-olds in Europe.
And British Dental Health Foundation chief executive Dr Nigel Carter was dismissive, suggesting the screenings were a ‘waste of money’.
He said: ‘While we wholeheartedly support Mr Lansley’s commitment to increase the focus on preventive dentistry, compulsory school screenings are simply a waste of money when there are far more effective measures available.
‘We live in an age of evidence-based medicine and dentistry and the evidence is overwhelming that school dental check-ups are not effective. Indeed, far from improving pupils’ oral health they have been shown to increase existing disparities.’
He added: ‘Screenings are not a preventive measure since they diagnose existing decay. Instead the proposed additional budget would be best spent on real preventative measures from water fluoridation to targeted programmes in schools with the application of fluoride varnishes and supervised brushing.
‘These measures have proved extremely successful at reducing child decay levels when implemented in the Scandinavian countries. We particularly need to target high-need areas with dental resources. The Foundation would welcome an opportunity to work with the shadow health team in developing their future dental policy.’