Together with Professor Mike Lennon of the British Fluoridation Society, Sir Paul has met with Health Secretary Matt Hancock to campaign to get fluoride introduced more widely into the water supply. ‘Fluoride in the water supply in this country is pathetic,’ said Sir Paul.
In the UK about 10% of the water supply is fluoridated, compared with 60-80% in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. ‘Fluoridation is I hope one of the policies which is going to be pushed forward,’ he said.
Sir Paul was speaking at a webinar hosted by BioMin Technologies during Lockdown to discuss global perspectives on children’s oral health and introduce the innovative new toothpaste, BioMin® F for Kids. The discussion panel was composed of a range of experts in different aspects of paediatric dentistry, from politicians to dental practitioners, and in the first of a series of five articles based on the webinar, we report on Sir Paul’s talk on policy directions in children’s dental health.
Opening his talk with some shocking statistics; he said that 160 hospital extraction operations were performed daily in the UK on children aged between 5 and 9 years old, at a cost of £836 each time. Poor dental health was largely due to a lack of education and poor diet. ‘The figures are appalling,’ he said.
The burden of children’s oral health problems on the British economy was ‘quite high’, he explained, ‘which is quite depressing considering the fact that caries is preventable’.
‘When you recognise that 25% of all 5-year-olds in England experience tooth decay in 3-4 teeth, and in deprived areas that goes up to 50%; and that 45,000 young people aged under 19 have gone into hospital for extractions for tooth decay, including 25,000 5-9 year olds, you begin to see the damage that that is doing to the NHS budget, and it’s unnecessary damage that we could get over,’ he said.
Over the course of his career, however, he felt that the situation was starting to improve. Children’s dentistry was no longer a ‘Cinderella service’, thanks to Chief Dental Officer (CDO) Sara Hurley spearheading a huge campaign to improve children’s dental health. With her mantra of ‘Put the mouth back into the body,’ she was getting support from ministers, as well as charities and dental professionals, to head up a drive to teach toothbrushing in primary schools, ‘and it’s really starting to work.’
Replying to a question later on, Sir Paul said that he hoped that the government would use Public Health England to insist to water companies that by law they must fluoridate their systems, most urgently in the most deprived and least educated areas.
While discussing education as a driver in improved oral health for children, Sir Paul referenced the role of dental therapists in schools in his home country of New Zealand which, alongside greater water fluoridation, results in better outcomes. Expanding on this later, he said that while employing therapists in UK schools was unrealistic, CDO Sara Hurley was running programmes in nurseries, involving teams of hygienists and therapists going in to work with very young children.
Despite pockets of resistance to fluoridation, Sir Paul’s hope is that with ministers onside, once fluoridation can be expanded, together with more dental health education for children, this would lead to an improvement in children’s oral health. ‘And perhaps, I’d like to have a “BioMin Test”, comparing the effect on children using BioMin F versus another toothpaste. And Sara’s on for that,’ he said.
Moving forward, Chief Dental Officer Sara Hurley is working on different ways to pay dentists to encourage them to see children, there are local drives in many areas to boost toothbrushing, ‘and as far as I can manage it we will be looking at encouraging toothbrushing for very young kids,’ he said. This has the added advantage of reaching parents too, as well as a possible opportunity to test BioMin F against other toothpastes.
‘Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Health Minister Jo Churchill accept the importance of dentistry, Sara is campaigning, and if we can get fluoride progressively into the water supply, we could head for a very, very strong preventive programme,’ he concluded.
Next time: Part 2. Emma Pacey discusses dental public health