Most toddlers do not visit the dentist because parents do not realise they need to have their children’s teeth checked, dental surgeons are warning.
The Faculty of Dental Surgery claims that “widespread misunderstanding” among parents lies behind the fact that 80% of children aged between one and two did not visit an NHS dentist in 2016-17. Failure to take infants for a checkup could start storing up problems that ultimately lead to young children having to have rotten teeth removed, it says.
“In a nation which offers free dental care for under-18s, there should be no excuse for these statistics,” said Professor Nigel Hunt, the dean of the faculty, part of the Royal College of Surgeons. “Yet we know from parents we speak to that there is widespread confusion, even in advice given to them by NHS staff, about when a child should first visit the dentist.”
The fact that four out of five one- to two-year-olds in England did not have a dental checkup last year emerged from an analysis undertaken by the faculty.
It identified a slight improvement in recent months, which may be in part due to media coverage of tooth decay and the dangers of sugar intake among children. Throughout 2016, only 19.1% of one- to two-year-olds visited the dentist, although that proportion rose to 20.2% in the 12 months to the end of March.
“The earlier a child visits the dentist, the earlier any potential problems can be picked up, so it is easier to prevent children having to go through the trauma of having their teeth removed under a general anaesthetic,” said Hunt.
Hospitals in England performed a total of 9,220 tooth extractions in 2015-16 among children aged between one and four, often because of tooth decay. More two- and three-year-olds appear to visit a dentist; the proportion of children aged one to four not visiting was 60%.
Hunt said: “Dental checkups in early years are as much about getting children comfortable in a dental environment as they are about checking teeth. Simply getting a child to open their mouth for a dentist to look at their teeth is useful practice for the future.
“First impressions are vital if we want children to have a long-term positive impression of dentistry. If a first dental visit results in a stressful, traumatic experience, this could have a serious lifelong effect on a child’s willingness to engage in the dental process.”