The British Dental Association warned that “grotesque” health inequalities among children in different areas of the country are set to widen as they lose out on free check-ups and school meals during the coronavirus pandemic.
A Public Health England survey of 210 five-year-olds in Burnley found tooth decay in 40% of children in the 2018-19 academic year.
The latest population estimates from the Office for National Statistics show there are 1,231 five-year-olds in the area, meaning 490 may be suffering with dental problems.
Tooth decay in children is a problem in Burnley Copyright: jpimedia
In 2016-17, 47% of children surveyed had tooth decay, suggesting that Burnley children have better oral health now than they did two years ago.
The rate in 2018-19 was higher than that across the rest of the North West, with 32% of five-year-olds in the region experiencing tooth decay – either present at the time of the dental exam, or evident because of missing or filled teeth.
Affected children in Burnley often had widespread issues, with multiple teeth affected showing signs of decay.
Nationally, 18,400 five-year-olds (23%) had tooth decay, and more than 1,700 children had teeth extracted.
Blackburn with Darwen, in Lancashire, had the highest rate in the country with 51% of children surveyed having evidence of decay. At the other end of the scale, Hastings, in East Sussex, had the lowest rate with just 1% of 210 surveyed youngsters showing signs of tooth decay.
Amid the Covid-19 outbreak, NHS England has urged dental practices to stop routine, non-urgent care until further notice, meaning five-year-olds across the country will miss out on routine check-ups in the coming weeks.
Mick Armstrong, chairman of the British Dental Association, said: “With free check-ups and school meals off the menu these grotesque inequalities among our children look set to widen.
“In the 21st century we shouldn’t accept that the oral health gap between children from wealthier and more deprived communities is inevitable.
“Ministers must not let this service or the prevention agenda end up as casualties of this pandemic.”
Of the children that were surveyed in Burnley, six (3%) had to have a tooth out – suggesting that around 34 children in Burnley had required an extraction, aged five or younger. As high-street dentists are unable to administer a general anaesthetic, this normally requires a hospital visit.
And with hospital tooth extractions for children aged five and under costing £836 on average, extractions in Burnley may have cost the NHS around £28,400 in 2018-19.
In a report, Public Health England said dental decay among young children “remains an important public health issue.
“Dental decay is largely a preventable disease. Further work to improve oral health and reduce inequalities is needed as nearly a quarter of five-year-olds had experience of dental decay, and the inequalities gap remains unacceptably high” the report said.