Health warnings needed to protect children’s oral health as a quarter of under-fives show signs of tooth decay, says BMA

BMA calls for action in the battle against tooth decay as a quarter of under-fives show signs of tooth decay; as a new survey shows the burden of ill oral health on hospitals and GP practices

The BMA (British Medical Association) is reinforcing calls for health warnings on children’s food packaging to make clear how sugary food and drinks contribute to tooth decay as a new survey shows the burden of ill oral health on hospitals and GP practices.

New data published May 15 show almost a quarter of five-year-olds who took part in a Public Health England survey showed signs of tooth decay.

The results also suggested children from deprived backgrounds have higher levels of tooth decay compared to those less deprived; a prevalence of tooth decay of 33.7% among the most deprived children compared to a prevalence of 13.6%.

This latest report adds to a body of evidence which shows more must be done to safeguard children and young people’s oral hygiene.

One of the major causes of hospital admissions in children is tooth decay. In 2016/17, there were 42,911 hospital procedures for under 18s in England to extract multiple teeth, so severely decayed treatment needed to be undertaken in a hospital under general anaesthetic.

This costs the health service about £36.2m, and a total cost of £165m since 2012.

Patients are also seeking help for tooth problems from general practice. A study published by the Royal College of General Practitioners in April 2016 indicated GPs see around 600,000 patients with dental problems each year.

One academic study suggested this costs GPs £26.4m a year, estimating 11.7 minutes of patient contact costs GPs £44.

BMA board of science chair Professor Dame Parveen Kumar said:

“While there’s been a steady improvement in recent years in tooth decay among children, a significant minority are still suffering preventable, painful dental health problems. While many children won’t experience tooth decay, those who do are severely affected and require complicated medical treatment to extract rotting teeth.

“If children are drinking less sugary drinks, as a result of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, this should improve children’s oral health. However, we must not take our foot off the pedal.

“Health warnings must make clear to parents the amount of sugar in the food and drinks they’re buying for their children. This should be in a way that’s easy to understand like how many teaspoons of sugar are in one serving. They would also make explicit how too many sugary drinks can cause tooth decay.

“If the health secretary is serious about creating a healthier environment for our children, we hope he will consider legislating for the introduction of health warnings, regulated by the Food Standards Agency.”

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