‘You know the drill – so now’s the time to give dentists proper funding’

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The Coco Pops sliding puzzles, the Frosties frisbees, and the Honey Nut Loops musical badges: I collected them all.

I remember filling my cereal bowl to the brim, ensuring it would only be a few days before I could open another packet and scoop out another toy.

Not only are free toys now a thing of the past, the cartoon characters who promote the sugary cereals are facing the axe.

Tony the Tiger and the Honey Monster help fuel the country’s obesity crisis, according to Westminster’s health and social care select committee.

The solution is unlikely to be a silver bullet, but when we have some of the highest incidences of obesity in the western world, maybe the time has come for Tony and his pals to enjoy their retirement

Perhaps a new generation of cartoon heroes can take their place, adorning packs of fruit and veg.

I’m in no doubt that I ate too much sugar as a kid. I’ve got the old silver fillings in my teeth to prove it.

Dental decay remains a national challenge, despite massive improvements in recent years. Only about 70 per cent of children in P1 have no obvious tooth decay.

The number of patients registered with an NHS dentist in Scotland has almost doubled over the past decade, so credit where credit is due to the current Holyrood administration, but there are still huge improvements needed.

The two biggest challenges are inequality, with oral health a significant problem in Scotland’s most deprived communities, and the country’s ageing population. Today, there are more older people than ever with their own teeth.

Earlier this year, the government published its Oral Health Improvement Plan, with a particular focus on preventative measures.

But if ministers want to further reduce rates of tooth decay, and address the inequalities in society, the dental service – like all sections of the NHS – will need more money.

Health spending in Scotland has not kept pace with overall devolved spending for the past decade under the SNP. It has been shortchanged by about £1 billion, according to an expert report published last year.

So while a focus on preventative measures will undoubtedly improve health outcomes – such as ending the use of cartoon characters to promote unhealthy foods – it can’t come at the expense of cold hard cash.

The incredible staff who work in the NHS deserve better.

They need governments with better workforce planning, particularly when Brexit is such a threat to recruitment.

One in ten of Scotland’s dentists are from the EU and the number of registered NHS dentists dropped between 2016 and 2017 for the first time in five years. That’s no coincidence. It’s yet another reminder of the myth promoted by Boris Johnson on the side of his big red bus.

In the past few weeks I’ve had my own intense experience of the NHS dental service in Scotland.

My wisdom tooth decided to grow horizontally, although I’m assured that was nothing to do with childhood cereal choices.

It was extracted by a brilliant NHS surgeon called Neil, who insisted on phoning me the following day to check up on me, but bad luck led to an infection and a particularly painful condition called “dry socket”. Don’t Google it.

Safe to say I’ve become somewhat acquainted with my NHS dentist, Ashley, over the past three weeks. Her course of industrial-strength antibiotics has done wonders for my liver.

This is her herogram: thank you for your amazing work.

Next month, we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS: an opportunity to say thank you to all staff and volunteers. We cherish our NHS for a reason.

I’ve been to dental hospital and the dentist five times in the past three weeks and paid a grand total of about £7.

The extraction alone would have cost something like £400 in a private clinic. In the US, extractions can cost up to $900 dollars without insurance.

So happy birthday to the National Health Service. Long may you receive the funding you need.

Alan Roden is a communications consultant, www.alanroden.com