A leading paediatric dentist has called for parents to take more responsibility for their children’s teeth after figures showed the fight against decay in the poorest areas of Scotland has failed to hit targets.
Professor Nicola Innes, who lectures worldwide, says tooth-brushing programmes in schools have made a huge difference but more needs to be done.
Figures for 2016 show that the Scottish Government’s national target for 60 per cent of five-year-olds to have no obvious decay reached only 55 per cent in the most deprived areas and has not been met in any year going back to 2008. Conversely, the 2016 figure for the least deprived parts of the country shows 82 per cent of children aged five had no obvious decay.
Innes, from the University of Dundee, said: “We have to come round to a system where we make it implicit on parents that it is their responsibility to look after their children. It’s a fact that you can’t lose that paternalistic approach – we need it because that’s catching the most deprived kids at the moment. Give them less sugar and more brushing. Parents also need to take responsibility for their children’s diets.”
She said she has seen three-year-olds go under general anaesthetic to have teeth removed. A dentist in Scotland receives about £9 for filling a child’s tooth but £25 for an adult.
Innes said: “For the amount of time, effort and energy it takes [to treat a child] it’s not well financially rewarded within the current system, but that is offset against other things that are, so the government has a swings and roundabouts approach to this. What you lose on one part – family dentistry for example – you make on another.
“It is easy to bash dentists and we have to remember the low figure they get paid for filling a child’s teeth.”
Innes has recently been to Denmark to lecture and see how the country addressed decay in children.
She said: “In Denmark they’ve reduced their decay dramatically. They used to have worse decay than we did in Scotland. The children are taught in school by a dentist, or in a clinic near the school, how to brush their teeth.”
“Parents get paid time off work to attend the dentist with their child and they’re expected to go.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Improving oral health in children is a joint undertaking amongst parents, the dental team, and nursery and primary school staff.
“Our Childsmile programme, which offers every child attending nursery in Scotland free daily supervised tooth brushing, is helping improve the oral health of our children.”