RUGBY, UK: Far fewer extractions have been performed on paediatric patients in the UK during the pandemic, but according to the Oral Health Foundation, this does not indicate an improvement in oral health. In fact, the dental health charity’s chief executive, Dr Nigel Carter, OBE, said that the decline is “a smokescreen towards the reality of what is happening”: systemic failures are denying children the dental care they desperately need.
“Tooth decay in children has not simply disappeared over the last year,” Carter explained. “It is unfair and unjust for just one child, let alone thousands, to be put in pain because they are unable to access the care they deserve.”
The UK Office for Health Improvement and Disparities numbers show that, over course of the coronavirus pandemic, extractions in patients under the age of 19 dropped from 35,190 in 2019–2020 to just 14,615 in 2020–2021. As for the National Health Service (NHS), lockdowns have meant that an astounding 12.5 million paediatric dental appointments have been cancelled, causing a correspondingly large backlog.
According to the Oral Health Foundation, in addition to training new dentists, the government must provide the NHS with more funding and a new service provision contract, because NHS dentistry in its current form is unable to meet the needs of the population, resulting in children being admitted to hospital for tooth extractions that should have been handled by their regular dentist. The Oral Health Foundation is also pushing the NHS to offer greater transparency and a better plan for tackling the systemic problems and urging the wider government to fluoridate water across the UK in an effort to mitigate dental caries in children.
The foundation has commended the work that the government has done so far in implementing the sugar tax to protect the health of children in the UK. However, according to Dr Carter the sugar tax should be broadened to other foods and drinks as well. “These measures would be highly effective alongside junk food advertising bans,” he said.
If these goals could be achieved and prevention was a focus, perhaps the number of tooth extractions in children really could fall, but not because they did not have access to the procedure when they needed it.