The initiative taken by MP and dentist Sir Paul Beresford to obtain an adjournment debate on child dental health in the House of Commons has been praised and welcomed by the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD).
The wide-ranging debate identified the challenges faced by the dental profession and, due to the close relationship between high levels of caries and social inequality, by society at large. Sir Paul said the extent of caries in children in England was sad and a disgrace with dental disease the most common reason for a child aged between five and nine years to be admitted to hospital in England.
Alistair Burt, the Minister for Community and Social Care, said in response that a new oral health indicator was to be published in the NHS outcome framework. This would look at the number of extractions of children aged 10 and under in hospital. The aim, he said, was to reduce the number of children referred for extractions in the medium term.
Claire Stevens, BSPD spokesperson and consultant in paediatric dentistry, commented: ‘The decision to refer a child for treatment under general anaesthesia (GA) is not taken lightly. We are talking about children who are not yet cooperative for treatment whilst they are awake and who have high dental need. Of course we would all like to see fewer number of children requiring GAs, but this will only occur when the extent of caries is also reducing.
‘In order to achieve this we need a shift in the focus of the dental contract from treatment to prevention and commitment from our government to urgently explore the feasibility of commissioning a national programme of prevention, akin to Scotland’s Childsmile.’
She continued: ‘We have to be realistic, this is going to take several years to achieve. We would hate to see a reduction in GA availability in the short-term as many children living with the traumatic effects of dental decay already endure unacceptable waiting times.’