Tooth decay is reaching crisis proportions in the United Kingdom, with Northern Ireland experiencing it the worst. For example, 72% of 15-year-olds in Northern Ireland have tooth decay, compared to 63% in Wales and 44% in England. The British Dental Association (BDA) Northern Ireland is responding with a 5-point plan for improvement.
“The Next Northern Ireland Assembly has a choice,” said Roz McMullan, chair of the BDA Northern Ireland Council. “It can accept that extracting over 22,000 baby teeth a year is the new normal, or it can tackle this epidemic head-on.”
First, the BDA Northern Ireland is calling for an update to the nation’s 10-year-old oral health strategy, which is based on obsolete data from 2003.
“The government’s current oral health strategy is a museum piece,” said McMullan. “We need a new plan, underpinned by the latest evidence, so we can save young people and their parents from unnecessary pain and suffering.”
In 2013, more than 5,300 young people in Northern Ireland were admitted to hospitals for 24,154 tooth extractions, including 22,056 baby teeth. These extractions represent the leading reason for administering general anesthetics to children in the nation.
Second, the organization is calling for action on marketing, education, and taxation of sugary snacks and drinks, which it blames for much of the decay. In fact, the United Kingdom recently announced a levy on beverage manufacturers and importers based on the sugar content of their products.
“Soft drink companies have made huge profits from an ingredient that’s cheap and addictive and has no nutritional value. Now they have an incentive to do the right thing and reduce excessive sugar levels in their products,” McMullan said.
“The next Northern Ireland government has to build on this and find new ways to help families and business make the right choices,” McMullan said. “We will need action on advertising, food labeling, and public education if we’re really going to turn the tide on decay.”
Third, the BDA Northern Ireland is asking the Assembly to revise current regulations to make them more efficient and effective. Similarly, its fourth point is an effort to cut red tape, which the group says causes delays without benefitting patients.
For example, Northern Ireland’s regulations currently place dentists with their own practices in the same category as hospitals. Approvals for simple dental work can then cost more than £280, or $396.34.
Finally, the BDA Northern Ireland wants to plan for the future. As demand grows, Northern Ireland will need to train new dental professionals. That will require planning as well as contracts that fit the needs of these new practitioners, the group said.
Recently, 96% community dentists agreed to a new contract negotiated by the BDA and accepted by the Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety. The deal will give each of them a 4.4% raise backdated to April 2015 as well as £750 or $1,061.63 each from a training fund for professional development.
“By 2021, we can turn the corner on decay. So let’s ensure we’re training the dental professionals Northern Ireland needs,” McMullan said.