Children attending special schools are more likely to have teeth removed, new research shows – despite having less decay.
Pupils in these schools who have experienced decay have more teeth affected and their oral hygiene is poorer, Public Health England (PHE) found.
And the number of children with a substantial amount of plaque is double that of those attending mainstream schools.
The results were obtained from the first national survey of oral health in schools for children with severe special education needs and disabilities (SEND).
Dr Sandra White, PHE’s director of dental public health, said the results suggested children in special schools were ‘particularly vulnerable’ and required extra help from public bodies.
Advice could include breast feeding for better nutrition, discouraging the use of a feeding bottle, cutting consumption of sugary food and drinks and supervised brushing.
Dr White said: ‘Tooth decay is caused by too much sugar in the diet and children currently consume three times as much sugar than official recommendations.
‘Despite children in special support schools having slightly lower levels of tooth decay than children in mainstream schools, they are still very high so we must not be complacent.
‘Local authorities and NHS England should take it upon themselves to provide dental services with specially trained staff who can cater for the multiple complex needs of these children.’
The key findings of the survey are:
- 22% of five-year-olds at special schools have experienced tooth decay and 29% of 12-year-olds
- Among five-year-olds, the north west has the highest level of tooth decay (33%) and the south west the lowest (10%)
- The north west also has the highest level of tooth decay among 12-year-olds (41%), while the south east had the lowest (22%)
- Those children with tooth decay have an average of four decayed teeth at age five and two decayed permanent teeth at age 12 – more than those attending mainstream schools
- The number of five-year-olds at special schools who have had one or more teeth extracted due to decay (6%) is double that of those in mainstream schools (3%)
- Twice as many children at special schools have visible plaque at both age five (4%) and age 12 (20%) than their mainstream counterparts (2% and 10% respectively).
Almost 2,000 five-year-olds and 3,500 12-year-olds were examined in 149 areas, two-thirds of the younger age group – and half of the older – at English special schools.
As in mainstream schools, children from the poorest households had the most decay and that decay was worst in the unfluoridated north west.