Trinity Academy Grammar in West Yorkshire has brought in a dental charity to treat pupils during school hours.
The BBC has reported that the school decided to take action due to a large number of pupils failing to access a local NHS dentist. This issue was beginning to cause disruption in the classrooms, with children “left in tears” due to dental pain. Charlie Johnson, headteacher, explained that “the ongoing problems had led to increased absences and were affecting pupils' learning”.
According to the news report, Mr Johnson “took his concerns to public health officials, who told him there was a shortage of local NHS dentists taking on patients.
They put the school in touch with Dentaid, a UK charity that normally provides dental treatment to people in developing countries or to vulnerable groups such as the homeless”.
He told the broadcaster, "We've had to take students to the hospital because tooth decay has been that bad.
"That has not only taken them out of lessons, but it's taken our staff away from the school building to care for them."
As a result, Dentaid brought a mobile clinic to the school, where its volunteer dentists found about one in 10 of 900 pupils needed treatment for conditions such as decay, cracked teeth and abscesses.
Jenna, 13, was one such pupil. Her toothache was so severe that she was struggling to fall asleep at night, which instead led her to fall asleep during lessons. When she was examined, dentists found an abscess. She told the BBC, "It affected my learning because there was a constant pain and I couldn't concentrate on what the teacher was saying."
Caine, 15, was another pupil that required treatment from the charity. Despite needed a tooth removing, his parents were unable to find an NHS dentist to treat him. He said, "We went to one in Elland and they said I needed an extraction or a cap in my tooth, but because it wasn't NHS I'd have to pay £50. My mum and dad couldn't afford it, so I didn't get it done."
Dentaid practice manager Sarah Hutchins said it was the first time the charity's staff had been asked to come and work in a UK school.
"We've seen a lot of children with a lot of holes in their teeth and who needed teeth removed. Once we've stabilised that, it will be a question of keeping on top of it," she said.
Meanwhile, the school told the BBC “It was ‘frustrating’ it had been forced to step in to provide dental treatment, but added that parents often found it impossible to access help” – according to government figures, 57 per cent of pupils at Trinity Academy have been eligible for free school meals in the last six years, against a national average of 27 per cent.
The British Dental Association (BDA) also commented on the situation, saying “Trinity Academy’s actions showed that NHS dentistry was on its ‘last legs’, and urged the government to ‘pick up the pace on the reform’”.
Eddie Crouch, chairman of the BDA, said, "We salute these volunteers, but this isn't the Victorian era.
"A wealthy 21st Century nation shouldn't be relying on charities to provide basic healthcare to our children."