Now that it has been in effect for about a year, the Local Government Association reports that England’s sugar levy has produced about £250 million in revenue, and the British Dental Association (BDA) wants to put that money to use in fighting childhood tooth decay.
None of the levy revenue has been earmarked for tooth decay programs yet, but the BDA says that just 2% of the larger-than-expected revenues would be enough to bring supervised tooth-brushing programs to 5-year-old children in the greatest need.
The BDA says that every £1 spent in the most deprived communities would generate up to £3.66 in return on investment (ROI). Targeting the most deprived quintile of 5-year-olds would generate expected savings after five years of nearly £10 million, with £7.5 million saved in hospital treatment costs alone, with a total ROI of nearly £2 saved for every £1 spent.
Further, the £5 million plan would break even in its first year, the BDA says. It also would prevent more than 60,000 school absences and 25,000 working days lost to parents taking their children to dental appointments.
The BDA notes that Scotland and Wales have national oral health programs for children that operate in nursery and primary schools built around supervised tooth brushing. England’s equivalent Starting Well program operates in just 13 local authorities, with no new money attached.
Meanwhile, the BDA reports an 18% increase in the number of pediatric extractions in hospitals since 2012, costing the National Health Service (NHS) £205 million. In 2017 and 2018, more than 59,000 patients age 19 and under had an extraction under general anesthetic in a hospital.
Changes to how the sugar levy operates will come into effect this financial year with no Capital Fund available, so revenues raised may blur into the daily budgets of schools and used for other costs like maintenance and repairs with very little oversight, the BDA reports. Instead, the organization is calling for revenue to be set aside specifically for oral health programs.
“Sugar is fueling an epidemic of decay, and it’s only right some of this windfall is used to make good on the damage. A tiny fraction of this revenue could transform the oral health of children in our most deprived communities,” said BDA chair Mick Armstrong.
“We shouldn’t be spending millions on extractions when tried and tested policies can make a lasting difference. Supervised toothbrushing is a winning investment that the government’s own models show will yield clear returns for our children’s health and an overstretched NHS,” Armstrong said.
“The levy proceeds were meant to be put to work on prevention. Dentists have seen what works, and the funds are at hand. All that’s required now is the political will,” Armstrong said.