Following ITV’s The Dentists programme filmed at the University Dental Hospital of Manchester and broadcast on 16 June 2014, the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD) is calling for a meeting with the Department of Health. BSPD wants to work with health officials to make it easier for parents and concerned healthcare professionals to help children with dental decay get early access to a paediatric dentist.
The programme reached an estimated audience of 1.75 million and showed the operations and procedures provided at the dental hospital, including two general anaesthetics on children undergoing multiple extractions. Whilst child dental health in the North West is amongst the worst in the UK, Manchester is not unique. Tooth decay is the third most common reason for a child to be admitted to hospital for a general anaesthetic with thousands of operations taking place at hospitals up and down the country every year.
Claire Stevens, a consultant in paediatric dentistry at the University Dental Hospital of Manchester, and spokeswoman for the BSPD, said: ‘If these children had seen a paediatric dentist earlier, it might have been possible to save their teeth, instead of removing them and potentially triggering dental anxieties for life.’
The BSPD is concerned said Claire, because some Community Dental Services are cutting back on paediatric dentists: ‘This is not the time to reduce the number of specialist staff who have the skills to diagnose, treat and manage children. We all need to be working together to achieve the societal change necessary to reduce dental disease and eliminate hospital admissions for multiple extractions.’
She said BSPD representatives want to engage with the Department of Health and colleagues in the dental as well as health and social care professions in order to come up with a coordinated approach to tackling the issue of caries in children.
‘In the 21st century, it’s entirely unacceptable that children in the UK are having to undergo a general anaesthetic, losing their teeth at a young age due to a disease which is entirely preventable.’
Claire said she was grateful to ITV for broadcasting The Dentists, which highlighted the challenges hospital dental teams face as well as the sterling work of specialist paediatric dentists and their teams. What the programme didn’t show was the follow-up preventive advice to parents to get those child patients on the road to dental health and visiting a dentist.
‘We welcome the powerful messages that underlie the programme, but it should be borne in mind that some children are inherently more susceptible to dental decay than others. A number of our patients end up in hospital because of a hereditary or medical condition and not because their parents are at fault.’
Claire said that while the distressing images of children waking up from an operation was a wake-up call for society at large, there were positive steps all parents could take, with the support of a general dental practitioner, to improve their children’s dental health, including regular visits to a dentist, fissure sealants and fluoride treatments, reducing the frequency of consumption of sugary snacks and drinks and regular twice-daily brushing at home.