Almost 5000 children each year in Northern Ireland have teeth in such a dreadful state of decay that they must have almost five extracted under general anaesthetic in hospital settings.
In addition, almost 11% of the teeth removed were second or permanent teeth, which will never be replaced as the child grows up.
Richard Graham, chair of the BDA’s Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee said: “Unfortunately we live in a society which thinks that sugar, refined carbohydrate is a major food source. And as long as we keep on doing that then people will continue to have these problems.”
There is a different attitude than in England, he says where money raised through the sugary drinks levy was used for health promotion.
“But in NI this £12.3m just disappeared into the health budget”.”
In Northern Ireland You are talking about children as young as two three, four getting up to 13-14 teeth extracted at once - it is terrible. Those are the same children later in life who develop obesity and type II diabetes. There is a public health message that we have to be deliverin to these people.”
According to NI Health Trusts figures for 2014-18, an average of 4,900 children per year had 2,300 teeth per year extracted under general anaesthetic, working out at almost five teeth removed from each child annually.
“The figures are very worrying and are a lot higher than in England. I think they are something like three times the amount of extractions in NI than in England because of the higher levels of dental decay that we have.”
The BDA supplied figures for 2017 which show that three times as many NI children undergo the procedure in hospital as in England; 3.8 English children per 100 compared to 11.7 children per 1000 in NI.
He believes the issue is also linked to poverty in NI.
“I do know that the deprived areas of NI are worse, there is a bigger spread, a bigger gap, between the deprived areas of NI and the well off areas compared to the rest of the UK.”
Grainne Quinn, Chair of the NI BDA (British Dental Association) Salaried Dental Committee, works for the Community Dental Service.
“Before Covid 19, on a typical Friday afternoon we would see eight children on our general aesthetic list and it would be not unusual to have two or three children that are five-years-old needing four to six teeth out under general anesthetic,” she said.
“I have been doing this for 20 years. Twenty years ago I thought that this would have been a thing of the past by now. But unfortunately now because of the diets of children now, we are still doing the same level of extractions and I think that is very worrying.”
It is not safe for children to have a general anaesthetic in their family dentists so this must be done in hospitals.
“We do see children as young as three that sometimes need to have extractions done. They are just too anxious to sit and have teeth out under local anaesthetic.”Grainne suggests a Scottish programme called ‘Child Smiles could be adapted for NI. It uses health visitors and dental practices, dental nurses to target children and has affected a big improvement, she says.
However a Department of Health spokesman responded that the smaller size of NI means that extraction figures here are more certain here and that there may be “significant under reporting” in England.It added that there has been “a dramatic improvement” in NI since 2003, when 60% of five year old children had dental decay, dropping to 40% by 2013 and now provisionally found to be 32%.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Any additional funding made available to Northern Ireland as a result of spending related to the Soft Drinks Industry levy in 2018/19 formed part of the overall budget
for allocation to all departments. In that respect it is not possible to separately identify the element of the budget for the Department of Health that related to the Soft Drinks Industry Levy.”
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