West Earlham Infant School in Norwich has been forced to arrange free dental checks for its pupils, which highlights the dental care crisis in the region.
According to Eastern Daily Press, “The school has linked up with a local dentist practice after staff became concerned about the number of pupils suffering from problems with their teeth.”
It reports, “When parents were contacted, they said they were finding it difficult to make appointments for their children because of a shortage of NHS dentists.
“Norfolk and Waveney was recently named as one of the five worst 'dental deserts' in the country, with more than 2,000 patients for every dentist working in the region.
“The partnership between West Earlham Infant School and John G Plummer Associates dentists this week saw all 180 pupils given a free screening and oral health checks in the assembly hall.
“Following the start of the project, other Norfolk schools have since expressed an interest in launching similar schemes.”
The news outlet also shared, “The initiative was the brainchild of West Earlham's deputy head teacher, Jade Hunter.”
"It started as a bit of a dream for me. We were becoming increasingly aware of more and more children coming into school with aches and pains in their mouths and tooth decay," she said.
"We spoke to the pupils’ parents about it and they were almost all saying they found it impossible to either get appointments on the NHS and they just cannot afford to go private."
The news outlet adds, “Ms Hunter contacted Plummers, a Norfolk-based dentist, which already runs a service called the Happy Smile Club, which involves giving talks in school about good oral hygiene. Until now, it has not involved actually examining teeth.”
Ms Hunter continued, "I knew about the Happy Smiles Club that Plummers runs and it just got me thinking - could it go a step further?
"So I did my Dragon's Den pitch of having dental appointments in school to them not really thinking it could come off - but if you don't ask, you don't get.
"If children come into school uncomfortable or in pain, they cannot concentrate and they do not learn, so it was so important to try and find a way of addressing this."
According to Eastern Daily Press, “The arrangement saw two dentists brought into the school for a day to carry out routine screenings - with youngsters then referred to the surgery to rectify any conditions identified.”
Marijka Barber, a dental nurse at Plummers, said, "Education is so important when it comes to oral health, as prevention is better than having to find a cure.
"Some of the children have never been to a dentist in their lives, so it might be a bit scary for them, but we want to make sure it is a positive experience for them so if they do then come afterwards, they know exactly what to expect.
"We have already had other schools get in touch interested in doing something like this too, so it has been very well received."
Ms Hunter added, "We have had 100 per cent uptake from parents of this and all the feedback we've had has been fantastic."
The partnership has been welcomed by Healthwatch Norfolk, which recently highlighted troubles people have had sourcing dental appointments across the county.
Alex Stewart, its chief executive, said, "Any project which can help give children access to a dentist is a good thing, and we would both support and highlight other practices and organisations who come up with similar schemes.
"It is also vitally important to ensure that children’s dental care is a priority otherwise we could be creating a greater increase in dental issues and oral health for future generations.
"We also remain very concerned about access to NHS dentistry in Norfolk as a whole. The contracts which are partially contributing to this problem need to be looked at again at a senior level and we would also like to see how the shortfall in dentists locally is also going to be addressed."
This is not the first instance of a school directly seeking the help of dentists in the face of NHS access troubles. Trinity Academy Grammar in West Yorkshire recently brought in a dental charity to treat pupils during school hours.
Meanwhile, The British Dental Association has warned government must act decisively to deal with the backlogs for child tooth extractions, as new figures show the number of treatments more than halved during the pandemic, and the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry has also shared their response on the tooth extraction data.