Despite tooth decay being largely preventable, tooth extractions remain the most common reason for hospital admissions of five to nine-year-olds in England.
So what can we do? Alongside efforts to reduce children’s sugar consumption, we’ve seen that starting good dental habits early – such as brushing teeth as soon as they appear, and visiting the dentist by baby’s first birthday – can make a difference.
My office and the LGA are supporters of the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry’s ‘dental check by one’ campaign (see www.bspd.co.uk).
With the support of local councillors, we want to build on this work on early years dental health habits. The Chief Dental Officer England Team has developed an initiative called Starting Well Core, which aims to increase access for the very youngest children – from birth to two years – to dental practices already supporting ‘dental check by one’ and other early years preventative care measures.
The aim is to give children the opportunity to develop a positive, lifelong relationship with a dental care team, which can nurture a whole range of healthy behaviours, as well as secure a child’s smile for life.
Starting Well Core is a national initiative but implementation rests with local NHS commissioning teams. So the advocacy of local councillors will be vital in identifying and prioritising the local communities that could most benefit from this work, and influencing commissioning via local health and wellbeing boards (HWBs).
HWBs can link with local dental networks to promote these measures with the help of local health, social care and early years’ workers. An NHS England Community Pharmacy campaign on children’s oral health, running during National Smile Month (13 May to 13 June), offers another opportunity.
As a joint endeavour – with the local commitment of NHS England commissioners to deliver on Starting Well Core, the support of local dental networks, HWBs and councillors – we can offer every child, in every community, a smile for life.