Approximately 80% of children between the ages of one and 2 years didn’t visit a National Health Service (NHS) dentist in the 12 months leading up to March 31, 2017, even though NHS dental checkups for children are free and that leading health organizations all recommend such checkups once children develop their first tooth, according to the Faculty of Dental Surgery (FDS) at the Royal College of Surgeons in the United Kingdom.
Additionally, almost 60% of children between the ages of one and 4 years didn’t have a dental checkup during the same period. During 2015 and 2016, there were 9,220 cases of tooth extractions performed in hospitals on children aged one to 4 years, often requiring a general anesthetic. Many of these cases were attributable to tooth decay, which the FDS notes is 90% preventable.
“In a nation that offers free dental care for under 18s, there should be no excuse for these statistics,” said Nigel Hunt, dean of the FDS. “Yet we know from parents we speak to that there is widespread confusion, even in advice given to them by NHS staff, about when a child should first visit the dentist. Every child should have free and easy access to dental care from the point when their first teeth appear in the mouth.”
The British Dental Association (BDA) reports that, in its polling, only 74% of parents thought that routine dental checkups were free for children under the age of 18 years, while only 69% thought fillings were free and 54% thought orthodontics were free for those under 18. There were some differences in awareness, as 67% of parents aged 25 to 34 years and 62% of parents aged 18 to 24 knew that checkups were free.
“Nearly 5 million children are failing to attend at an NHS dentist each year, and extractions are surging,” said Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, the BDA’s chair of general dentist practice. “The fact that so many parents are simply unaware that these checkups are free of charge shows just how little energy the government is putting into prevention.”
“There are no public education campaigns, budget is set aside to treat just over half the population, while charge hikes are designed to make patients think twice about treatment,” said Mick Armstrong, BDA chair. “The net result is even those who don’t need to pay are put off by costs.”
The FDS notes that many oral health problems are easily preventable through twice daily brushing with a fluoride toothpaste, avoiding sugary drinks and snacks, and regular dental checkups. Also, mothers also are entitled to free dental checkups during pregnancy and in the 12 months after they give birth. Meanwhile, the BDA has announced a 6-point plan to improve oral care throughout the nation.
“Dental checkups in early years are as much about getting children comfortable in a dental environment as it is about checking teeth. Simply getting a child to open their mouth for a dentist to look at their teeth is a useful practice for the future. First impressions are vital if we want children to have a long-term positive impression of dentistry,” said Hunt. “If a first dental visit results in a stressful traumatic experience, this could have a serious lifelong effect on a child’s willingness to engage in the dental process.”
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