Schools and nurseries are to supervise more Scottish youngsters brushing their teeth and provide dental hygiene advice.
It comes amid growing concerns in recent years that tooth decay among youngsters living in more deprived areas is worse than children in better off neighbourhoods of Scotland.
The Childsmile initiative was backed by health secretary Shona Robison yesterday and involves nursery and primary school staff providing daily, supervised toothbrushing, and dietary and oral hygiene advice. In poorer areas children also receive two applications of fluoride varnish.
Ms Robison said: “The Childsmile programme, with its emphasis on prevention rather than treatment, has resulted in significant improvements in children’s oral health across Scotland. Our aim is that every child has access to Childsmile.
“Reducing inequalities in health is critical to achieving the Scottish Government’s aim of making Scotland a better, healthier place for everyone, no matter where they live – and the expansion of Childsmile, through our Fairer Scotland Action Plan, provides a good illustration of this in practice.”
The National Dental Inspection Programme two years ago showed a 21 point difference between tooth decay levels children in the least and most deprived communities.
Ms Robison launched the expansion at Annette Street Primary School in Glasgow which is among those to benefit.
Official figures show dental health is improving generally among Scottish children, but it emerged earlier this year that children as young as two are waiting up to six months to have decaying teeth extracted amid a shortage of theatre space and reductions in hospital dentists.
Some youngsters in the Glasgow and Forth Valley areas are waiting six months from referral to treatment, against a national target of 18 weeks, according to the British Dental Association. This compares to two to 12 weeks in other health boards areas, with NHS Fife treating urgent patients within 24 hours.
Scotland’s Chief Dental Officer, Margie Taylor, insisted yesterday that fewer children are requiring treatments such as extractions, fillings and general anaesthetics.
She added: “Picking up good habits at a young age means less tooth decay, which in turn means less toothache, fewer sleepless nights and less time off school. Not to mention these good habits will last a lifetime.”