Poorer children more likely to have tooth decay, figures show

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Children in Scotland’s most deprived areas are more likely to have tooth decay than their more affluent peers, official statistics have shown.

The National Dental Health Inspection report surveyed more than 16,000 primary one (P1) pupils and found 86% of those in Scotland’s least deprived areas had no obvious signs of decayed, missing, or filled milk teeth.

This fell to 56% in the most deprived areas, with the 30% gap widening by three percentage points in 2017/18 compared to the previous year.

The mean number of decayed, missing or filled teeth was 0.45 for children in the most well-off areas but 1.92 in the poorest.

Despite the widening inequality, the oral health of Scotland’s children in general continues to improve with more than two thirds (71%) have no obvious signs of decay.

This has been rising since 38% in 1994 and has increased two percentage points since 2016/17.

The average number of P1 children’s teeth with obvious decay experience was 1.14, down from 1.21 in 2016/17, having fallen continuously since 2.76 in 2003.

For the 29% of children with obvious decayed, missing or filled teeth, the average number of affected was 3.94, up marginally from 3.93 in 2016/17.

Across Scotland’s health boards the average number of teeth affected for P1s with decay ranged from 2.47 in Shetland to 4.59 in Dumfries and Galloway.

The number of teeth affected in an individual child varied from one to all 20 teeth.

A total of 16,814 pupils were included in the survey between November 2017 and June 2018.

The Liberal Democrats said the Scottish Government needed to take further action to improve children’s teeth.

The party’s health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “While Scotland’s dental health has improved steadily since the early 2000s, there is a big gap between the dental health of children from the most and least deprived backgrounds and it appears to be widening.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman credited the Childsmile programme, which gives parents a free toothbrush, toothpaste and oral health education information for their child, for the improvement.

She said: “We welcome that the proportion of children with no obvious decay experience has increased to 71% in 2018, compared with 58% in 2008.

“We want to see these positive trends continue by tackling health inequalities in children.

“This is why children living in our most deprived areas are entitled to receive fluoride varnish applications at nursery or school.

“We have also extended the Childsmile Programme to all nursery and primary one and two children in the most deprived communities across Scotland.”

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