Cultural shift needed to improve dental health in children

The impact on developing adult teeth means the dental care and education provided to children and adolescents is critical, articles published in the paediatric dentistry themed issue of the British Dental Journal (BDJ) argue.

Improving the management of early childhood dental conditions particularly tooth decay which can take years to detect and their links to diet and obesity is essential to the long-term oral and general health of the population, but needs a cultural shift in attitude and behaviour to succeed.

The pattern of eating and drinking throughout the day has contributed to the current situation with tooth decay remaining one of the most prevalent disease conditions in the child population, and borne out by the 2008/2009 NHS oral health survey which found a third of 12-year-olds attending state schools in England had visible decay in their permanent teeth.

Contributors to the themed issue of the BDJ argue that goals for children to reach adulthood with teeth that will be healthy for life are being missed. But there is an opportunity to change this through the reorganisation of dental services in England to deliver a multi-level system of preventive care, healthcare advice and restorative and surgical treatment to meet the challenge of extensive dental disease in children. Such a system would need adequate funding and the support of skilled professionals led by specialist paediatric dental consultants, which would put an end to the current trend in loss of specialist posts and some NHS trusts having no paediatric dentists on their staff.

Restrictions in access to specialist-led services in many parts of the UK, regardless of clear evidence showing the excellent outcomes and the lowest repeat-rates in the world for restorative treatment under general anaesthetic, also needs to be addressed.

Stephen Hancocks, Editor-in-Chief of the BDJ, commented: “This paediatric dentistry themed issue of the BDJ marks the first in a forthcoming series of themed issues bringing together contributions from specialists as well as dental practitioners with special interests to provide a focus for discussion, research and debate in some of the key areas of dental and oral health.