Table of contents


Background papers: children :: Dental health in children :: Overview


Oral health refers to the condition of gums, teeth, surrounding bone and soft tissues of the mouth enabling function and being free of disease and pain. Although the oral health of children in England has generally improved over the past few decades, there are still children with unacceptable tooth decay levels. Furthermore, the distribution of tooth decay varies geographically across Kent and Medway, with proportionately more children in the more deprived local authority areas experiencing tooth decay. Tooth decay in children is often not treated, the consequences of which include pain and discomfort on chewing, which may affect children's growth and development.

Tooth decay in children is largely preventable. The risk factor is a frequent and high sugar diet, which is also common to diabetes and obesity. The availability of topical fluoride such as in toothpastes, varnishes and mouthrinses helps to prevent tooth decay.

NHS dental access rates for children for the years 2012-14 indicate that Medway has a higher rate than the South East region (80% and 69% respectively), however there are still variations in the uptake of services across Medway.

Key issues and gaps

• Lack of comprehensive census survey data of tooth decay experience

• Current available data suggest that nearly one in five, five- and 12-year-old and one in 12, three-year-old children have experience of tooth decay,
• Lack of a coordinated approach to oral health promotion activities that include topical fluoride therapy for children
• Inequality in uptake of primary care dental services

Recommendations for consideration by commissioners

• Ensure the continuation of the National Epidemiological programme in Medway
• Promote a coordinated approach to the control of tooth decay through evidence-based oral health promotion interventions
• Promote orientation of primary care dental services to focus on prevention in line with Delivering Better Oral Health - a toolkit for prevention (Department of Health, 2014)
• Promote regular dental visits for prevention
• Promote development of an appropriate skills-mix workforce in order to meet the dental needs of the population effectively and efficiently
• Promote collaboration with other health workers such as health visitors to deliver oral health messages