The British Dental Association has accused the government of letting down children in England following today's launch in Manchester of Starting Well – an unfunded programme to tackle child tooth decay which will operate within just 13 local authorities. Dedicated national efforts have existed in both Wales and Scotland for over a decade.
The scheme – delivery on a 2017 manifesto pledge to improve outcomes for deprived children – has targeted areas with high decay rates, and pre-existing oral health programmes. The BDA has expressed concern this initiative looks like a cynical bid to take credit for the good work of local authorities, without any additional investment from central government.
Dentist leaders say millions of children who need support will miss out as a consequence. The BDA understands that in Ealing children in just three council wards will benefit. The government has resisted calling these 13 schemes 'pilots', and stated they have no current plans to develop a national programme.
Tooth decay is the leading cause of hospital admissions among children across the UK. An estimated 160 procedures to extract teeth are performed each day under general anaesthetic in hospitals across England, costing the NHS over £35 million a year.
The BDA has long advocated the Scottish programme Childsmile as a possible model for England, a national effort with both universal and targeted components that has already reduced the bill for dental treatment costs by £5 million a year.
Answering a Parliamentary Question from the Shadow Secretary of State Jon Ashworth MP, Minister Steve Brine MP confirmed last week that the "funding for this scheme would be provided within existing dental spend" and that it was "not currently possible to determine the number of children who will benefit from the programme".
The BDA's Chair of General Dental Practice Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen said:
"Tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admissions across Britain. Sadly while devolved governments have set up dedicated national programmes, England is being offered a second rate option.
"Council leaders have been making progress in the fight against decay without resources or direction. These areas require new investment, not a new logo, and holding a few launch events while failing to offer a single penny of new money does not constitute a national effort.
"Targeting a handful of wards in just thirteen local authorities means millions of children will miss out on this important work. We need to find better ways to encourage those most in need of treatment to attend, and proposals as they stand look unlikely to deliver.
"We welcome any progress to get more children attending, but we need to see rapid expansion towards a national programme on the back of the learnings from Scotland and local pilots."