Children’s use of non-dental services to treat oral pain is costing the NHS £2.3m a year.
That’s according to new research by the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), which found thousands of children with oral pain are going to pharmacies, A&E and other non-dental services, instead of their dentist.
The study found that 65% of pharmacy visits by parents were to get pain medications to treat children’s oral pain.
‘The fact that only 30% of children with oral pain had seen a dentist before going to a pharmacy highlights a concerning underuse of dental services,’ lead researcher, Dr Vanessa Muirhead from QMUL, said.
‘Children with oral pain need to see a dentist for a definitive diagnosis and to treat any tooth decay.
‘Not treating a decayed tooth can result in more pain, abscesses and possible damage to children’s permanent teeth.
‘These children had not only failed to see a dentist before their pharmacy visit, they had seen GPs and a range of other health professionals outside dentistry.
‘This inappropriate and overuse of multiple health services including A&E is costing the NHS a substantial amount of money at a time when reducing waste is a Government priority.’
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‘Multi-million pound price tag’
Only 58% of children in England had visited a dentist in 2016, despite dental care being free for under 18s.
The research found that around 10% of children had signs and symptoms of a dental emergency, with pharmacy staff pointing them to the emergency services.
Of those children visiting the pharmacy, 41% had toothache, 20% had pain from a newly erupted tooth and 15% had a painful mouth ulcer.
‘Dentists are trained and equipped to treat oral pain,’ BDA chair of General Dental Practice, Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, said.
‘Ministers must take their share of responsibility for the fact that so many parents are now heading elsewhere when their children have problems.
‘The failure to take oral health seriously is now piling pressure across our NHS.
‘Parents and dentists are seeing no leadership here, and pharmacists and medics are struggling to fill the gap.
‘Sadly these latest figures are just the tip of the iceberg.
‘Tooth decay, a wholly preventable condition, remains the number one reason for child hospital admissions.
‘It’s a scandal that Government indifference is coming with a multi-million pound price tag.’