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Children’s oral health is “national disgrace,” says head of royal college

BMJ 2023; 380 doi: (Published 04 January 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;380:p5

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Re: Children’s oral health is “national disgrace,” says head of royal college

Dear Editor

Without question, children’s oral health is a “national disgrace,” and the poor state of children’s teeth is indeed a damning indictment of widening inequalities in child health in England.

From the work we do at the Dental Wellness Trust, we know that national strategies such as oral health prevention and toothbrushing programmes in schools and nurseries (especially in those towns and cities of greatest need) is one way of supporting this long overdue “prevention better than cure” ethos and we call on the Government and local authorities for more urgent funding and support.

Families report facing multiple barriers to accessing dental care, with asylum-seeking and refugee children particularly impacted. To meet the dental needs of these children, the Dental Wellness Trust has partnered with the RESPOND service at UCLH, which offers initial health assessments for asylum-seekers and refugees as they arrive in North-Central London. Children not known to a dentist are referred to the Dental Wellness Trust clinic for further assessment and care, and onward referral into NHS services where appropriate. The Dental Wellness Trust relies on dentists and dental nurses who each volunteer their time to treat these children, who would otherwise struggle to access basic dental care. RESPOND and the Dental Wellness Trust have found that outreach support– where professionals go out into the community to offer health screening (rather than families attend appointments at designated centres) – supports higher levels of engagement in the asylum-seeking population.

Tooth decay remains one of the most non-communicable diseases worldwide, yet for too long so many children have suffered unnecessarily. Furthermore, the UK is set to see higher rates of tooth decay among the Covid-generation of pre-school children who have never seen a dentist or delayed seeing one during the pandemic. Doing nothing is simply not an option. Novel, collaborative and inclusive methods of healthcare delivery are needed if we are to ensure that the most vulnerable children and young people are able to access the care they need.

Dr Linda Greenwall
Founder of Dental Wellness Trust

Dr Katharine Julia Hurry BDS(Lon) MFDS RCPS (Glasg), Academic Clinical Fellow (DCT3) in Paediatric Dentistry at Barts Health NHS Trust. General Dental Practitioner at 2 Green Dental

Dr Allison Ward, Consultant Paediatrician, Clinical Lead, RESPOND: Integrated Health Service for Refugees

Dr Sarah Eisen, Consultant Paediatrician, UCLH/HTD. Clinical Lead, RESPOND: Integrated Health Service for Refugees

Dr Nicky Longley, UCL Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Competing interests: No competing interests

24 January 2023
Linda Greenwall
Founder, Dental Wellness Trust
Katharine Julia Hurry, Allison Ward, Sarah Eisen, Nicky Longley
5 Elm Terrace, London NW3 2LL