Do UK children visit the dentist early enough?

children's dentistThe Royal College of Surgeons Faculty of Dental Surgery has recently released data which indicates that eight in 10 children aged between one and two years in the UK did not visit an NHS dentist in 2016/17. Nigel Hunt, the Dean of the Faculty is unequivocal in his view, “in a nation which offers free dental care for under-18s, there should be no excuse for these statistics”.

A failure to take children to the dentists from an early age can result in all kinds of complications later in life. For a start, it’s important to make children feel comfortable in the dentist’s chair as young as possible so they don’t build up an unhealthy fear later in life.

More critically though the effects of poor oral hygiene and a lack of regular dental visits can have serious health consequences. The most common reason for children to be admitted to hospital in the UK is for tooth decay and a recently published report in the British Dental Journal found that tooth extractions under general anaesthetic accounted for 1,510 missed schooldays in 2014/15. The cost is fairly significant too, with the British Dental Association estimating that £35 million was spent last year on hospital based extractions for under 18 year olds.

So, what’s going wrong? To some extent parents are less concerned about first teeth because they’re going to fall out anyway. That’s a worrying misconception though as lack of care early on will definitely lead to problems with adult teeth; your baby teeth hold space in the jaws for the permanent teeth that are growing through and if a baby tooth is lost too early then the adult teeth can come through crooked or crowded.

There also seems to be a lack of awareness amongst the poorer levels of society that dentistry is free for all under 18s. According to the BDA, “The fact millions of parents are unaware these check-ups are free of charge shows just how little energy the authorities have put into prevention… The next government must focus on reaching out to patients of all ages, not erecting new barriers to care.”