The British Dental Association Wales has reacted to new figures showing that tooth decay remains the leading reason for children ending up in hospital, with warnings that the Welsh Government now risks overstretching its child oral health programme.
The data comes off the back of the 'Baby Teeth Do Matter' campaign, which shows that five-year-old children in Merthyr and Rhondda Cynon Taf now have the highest dental decay rates in Wales.
The Designed to Smile programme has made huge inroads into tackling oral disease in children in Wales, but dentists say the £4 million budget is now being spread too thinly. A bid to refocus the policy on children during early years now means the programme for primary school children faces an uncertain future.
BDA Wales has called for the scheme to be made compulsory in areas of high deprivation, and extended to preschool infants. It has also called on the Welsh Government to make a decisive break from the decade old NHS contract system which sets quotas on patient numbers, and which continues to hold back a genuinely preventive approach to dentistry in Wales.
David Johnson, Chair of the Welsh Committee for Community Dentists, said: "This research shows that despite welcome efforts the Welsh authorities must do more on child tooth decay.
"Designed to Smile has made real headway, so we are disappointed to see the Welsh Government trying to spread its limited budget too thinly. A greater focus on preschool infants is welcome, but officials should not be undermining the current programme in primary schools to achieve it. This approach looks careless, and risks undoing the tangible improvements secured over the last decade.
"The Welsh Government now needs to go that extra mile on prevention, provide sustainable investment in child oral health and let go of the government targets that have failed patients. Let's ensure Designed to Smile can really thrive, and that our NHS dentists are armed with a genuinely preventive contract."