Plymouth primary school children to receive NHS dental appointments

10 November 2023

NHS dental appointments will soon be offered to children at Whitleigh Primary School, thanks to the work of the Plymouth Dental Task Force.

Similarly to many primary schools across Plymouth, almost half of children at Whitleigh Primary School do not have a dentist, and their parents are unable to pay for private care. Earlier this year, the school conducted a parent survey which revealed that 48 per cent of pupils are not registered at a dental practice due to long NHS waiting lists. The children in years five and six have been influential in raising the profile of this issue across the country, including appearing on national television.

Over the past year, over 600 local children have, between them, had over 4,000 teeth removed. Therefore, children’s dental care has been a priority for the dental task force.

The University of Plymouth’s Peninsula Dental School has been working hard to come up with a plan. And, in a new pilot, they will soon be offering dental appointments with the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise (PDSE) to all students at Whitleigh School in key stages one and two, with children remaining patients up until the age of 16.

The school will now work with the PDSE to identify which children need appointments. It is hoped that the next school in the pilot will be Laira Green Primary School in Laira.

Mary Aspinall, a councillor and Plymouth City Council’s Cabinet member for health and chair of Plymouth’s dental task force said, “It is shocking that there are so many children in our city that are unable to get an NHS dentist. Unless their parents can afford to pay for a private clinician, some of them have never had a check-up.

“Without regular dental care, children are at greater risk of tooth decay and gum disease. As a result, hundreds of children every year are needing emergency appointments when their oral health declines. This is entirely preventable and ends up costing the health system approximately £1m per year.

“I would like to praise the children at Whitleigh School for their impressive work on this vital issue over the past year and it was a pleasure to meet them and hear them speak so eloquently and passionately about their campaign. They have been heard, and I am thrilled that thanks to the work of the Dental Task Force, the Peninsula Dental School and PDSE have come up with such an innovative pilot programme.

“I am also pleased that children at Laira Green will also benefit from the scheme. Whilst it won’t solve all our problems – it will make a difference to hundreds of children.”

Mark Dyson, headteacher of Whitleigh Primary School, said, "The outcome of the school's tireless efforts and advocacy for free dentistry is inspiring. It serves as a reminder that when we raise our voices and work hard, people do listen, and positive transformation can occur.

“Hopefully, this will be the catalyst to ensuring children across the city and beyond get access to dental care. I am very proud of the work Mrs O'Neill and her Rights Rangers team have done that have led to such a positive change to the health and lives of young people."

Robert Witton, a professor of community dentistry at the University of Plymouth, added, “We have been working with Whitleigh School for many years delivering oral health activities, and whist this has been a great success we were aware 50 per cent of the children in the school could not access a dentist. In response to the children’s campaign and the work of the Plymouth Dental Task Force, we have been able to make some additional appointments available to the children, and we plan to make similar offers to other Schools in Plymouth when we can. Planning for this is underway now”.