Welsh Government
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Action on tooth decay prevents more than cavities

Oral health programmes such as the Designed to Smile scheme in disadvantaged communities in Wales are helping to reduce health inequalities, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales says in his fifth annual report.
Dr Tony Jewell visited a Designed to Smile scheme at Herbert Thompson Primary School, Ely to see the programme in action. The scheme sees dental health support workers deliver a supervised tooth-brushing programme in schools and provide toothbrushes and toothpaste to school children along with oral health advice.

Children living in less affluent areas are more likely to experience decay and are likely to have more decayed teeth than their less deprived peers. So while half of the five year old children across Wales have no decayed teeth, the other half have on average four teeth decayed, filled or extracted.

A young child with decay causing dental pain often requires a general anaesthetic to deliver the dental treatment.  The number of children requiring treatment - and anaesthetic - will reduce as more children get fluoride in contact with teeth through brushing and good oral health. As we live longer it is even more important to develop healthy teeth for life.

The scheme encourages good habits like brushing with toothpaste as well as offering advice on how to avoid cavities by steering clear of sugary drinks and frequent snacks. This advice links with other work being done to combat obesity and prevent conditions like diabetes and heart disease in the long-term.

Dr Jewell said:

“Designed to Smile targets young children in areas of greatest need and helps to get fluoride in contact with developing teeth and instils good tooth brushing habits.

“However, it is more than simply teaching children how to brush their teeth. The scheme also delivers direct clinical interventions that have been shown to prevent decay. Wales lags behind the rest of the UK in terms of tooth decay in children and we will do all we can to improve the situation.”

Significant progress has been made across Wales with more children from deprived areas taking part in tooth brushing schemes, providing them with the tools they need to develop and maintain good oral health from an early age.

Targeting disadvantaged areas is important as poverty is one of the most potent causes of ill health. Disadvantaged communities are not improving their life expectancy at the rate of the more advantaged. This is the cause of widening inequalities between rich and poor.

The Flying Start programme is addressing these issues by offering free, quality, part-time childcare for 2-3 year olds, an enhanced health visiting service, parenting programmes and language and play sessions to all children aged 0-3 and their families. It was launched by the Welsh Government in 2007 and early evaluation evidence suggests it is making a real difference to many families across Wales in the areas in which it runs.

Dr Jewell said:

“We need to give babies and children the best possible start in life. This will again depend on many factors – reducing smoking and the drinking of alcohol during pregnancy, reducing teenage pregnancy rates, providing child and family support, as well as modernising our maternity and child health services.

“Both the Flying Start and Healthy Schools initiatives are working towards a healthier future for children. While the health service and public health initiatives can help, there are wider issues in society - including poverty - that will take an effort across policy areas and governments to tackle.

“There are no quick fixes but quality of life for Welsh citizens depends on our efforts. The effort that we put in now will benefit generations to come.”

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