A new survey from Public Health England has revealed that children in special support schools are more likely to have their teeth extracted, despite having slightly lower levels of tooth decay than children in mainstream schools.
This national survey – the first of its kind – examined the oral health of children in schools that cater for severe special education needs and disabilities. The statistics also show that those who did experience decay have more teeth affected and their oral hygiene is poorer. The number of children in special support schools with a substantial amount of plaque is double that of those attending mainstream schools. (4% & 2% respectively for 5-year-olds and 20% & 10% respectively for 12-year-olds).
Broken down by region, the survey shows wide variation in tooth decay prevalence and severity ranging from 10% to 33% for 5 year olds and 22% to 41% for 12 year olds. The North West region has the poorest dental health for both age groups in special support schools.
The key findings were:
- Around 1 in 5 (22%) 5-year-old children at special support schools has experienced tooth decay.
- Around 1 in 4 (29%) 12-year-old children at special support schools has experienced tooth decay.
- For 5-year-olds, the North West has the highest level of tooth decay at 33%; with those in the South West have the lowest at 10%.
- For 12-year-olds, the North West has the highest level of tooth decay at 41% and those in the South East have the lowest at 22%.
- Those children with tooth decay have an average of 4 decayed teeth at age 5 and 2 decayed permanent teeth at age 12, which is greater than those attending mainstream schools.
- The number of 5-year-old children at special support schools who have had one or more teeth extracted due to decay is double that of those in mainstream schools (6% and 3% respectively).
- Oral hygiene is generally poorer in children attending special support schools with more children having visible plaque at both age 5 and age 12 compared to their mainstream counterparts (4% compared to 2% and 20% compared to 10% respectively).
- In both age groups those with a behavioural, emotional or social difficulty have the highest levels of tooth decay; 28% of 5-year-olds and 42% of 12-year-olds.
Dr Sandra White, Director of Dental Public Health at Public Health England, said:
“Tooth decay is caused by too much sugar in the diet and children currently consume three times as much sugar than official recommendations. Thankfully tooth decay can be prevented by not giving children sugary foods and drinks and brushing their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first tooth comes into the mouth. It’s also important to visit the dentist as early as possible to receive advice on good oral hygiene and to have free preventative treatment like fluoride varnish.
“Despite children in special support schools having slightly lower levels of tooth decay than children in mainstream schools, they are still very high so we must not be complacent. Children in special support schools are particularly vulnerable so they require an additional package of support to prevent and treat tooth decay. Local authorities and NHS England should take it upon themselves to provide dental services with specially trained staff who can cater for the multiple complex needs of these children.”
Anna Ireland, Chair of the BDA’s Dental Public Health Committee, said:
“All tooth decay is preventable, and some of the most vulnerable children in our society are being let down. This new evidence makes for sobering reading, and shows again why government and other organisations must support dentists, teachers and parents to improve oral health.
“What’s striking is that we are seeing the very same variations based on region and income that we see in mainstream education. These inequalities aren’t inevitable, and will persist as long a government treats oral health as an afterthought.
“So let’s talk about prevention, targeted action and sugar controls. Let’s just not pretend the damage being done to our children’s oral health is going to stop of its own accord.”