NHS dental attendance figures published last week show over two thirds of children (70.2 per cent) in England did not see an NHS dentist in the 12 months to December 31, 2020. Dental surgeons are warning the number of children admitted to hospital for tooth decay may rise, if access does not improve this year.
The new figures show yet another of the detrimental impacts the Covid-19 pandemic has had on children’s health over the last year. In 2019, over six in 10 children under 16 saw a dentist; in 2020, it was less than three in 10.
Responding, Matthew Garrett, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said, “While it is not surprising the number of children who saw an NHS dentist dropped so dramatically in 2020, we must improve access this year to avoid long-term damage to children’s teeth. All dental practices had to close during the first lockdown, and although many reopened over the summer, they mainly treated patients with dental emergencies.
“We know the pandemic has disproportionately affected children from the poorest families, and worsened health inequalities, and sadly this is also likely to be true in dentistry.
“Prior to the pandemic, dental decay was the top reason for children aged between five and nine years old to be admitted to hospital in England. We do not want to see a wave of children back in hospital for tooth extractions. It’s essential for parents to know that dentists are now open. If their child has tooth pain or has suffered any sort of dental trauma, they will be prioritised. Dental practices are taking all possible precautions to remain covid-safe.
“With the backlog in regular check-ups, it’s absolutely vital that parents take steps at home to make sure their children’s teeth and gums are looked after. This includes brushing regularly with a fluoride toothpaste and reducing the frequency of sugary snacks and drinks.”