OPINION: Time to end the toothless approach to children's health

It used to be that the Tooth Fairy would visit youngsters after days on end of a wobbly tooth ended with a coin under the pillow when the baby tooth finally gave way.

Friday, 8th April 2016, 5:00 am
Sheffield has the highest figure for tooth decay among children

In South Yorkshire today, it would seem the Tooth Fairy is likely to be very busy in the Children’s Hospital.

That’s because Sheffield has the highest rate of tooth decay in children aged under 10 in the UK, with a staggering 1,140 youngsters having rotting teeth removed in 2014-15.

It equates to three children a day needing hospital treatment because their decay is so bad.

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That must put a strain on an already stretched NHS, especially when oral care is supposed to be restricted to dental practices.

But far more worrying is the effect on children’s health.

Decay is linked to a poor diet, in turn linked to obesity - which is already a serious problem among children in Sheffield.

The Government has pointed to its imminent ‘Sugar Tax’ as evidence that it is taking issues around high-sugar diets seriously,

It’s a little heavy handed, but anything that raises awareness of the dangers of sugary products is surely a start.

Similarly, retailers have shown social responsibility - recently Tesco ditched Ribena from its shelves due to its high sugar content being aimed at children.

It’s tempting to lambast parents, but no parent wants their child to be in discomfort or to harm their health.

The key is information.

More could be done in schools to make youngsters aware of good oral healthcare.

Supervised brushing clubs at nursery sound like an example of the nanny state, but if it leads to more awareness from a young age, it can only be a good thing.

Free condoms are handed out to students to improve sexual health.

This is just as vital a battle: why not give out free toothpaste and toothbrushes to primary school kids in deprived areas?

It needs authorities to take the initiative, not be toothless - or we all pay the cost, not just the youngsters who end up with debilitating health problems.

This is not a problem that is going to be fixed overnight. It will take years of ingenuity, creativity and hard work - as well as a few quid - from those in our health services and our school systems.

It will take time, but hopefully there is a not-too-distant future where children’s oral health will be all-smiles again.