25 September 2015

In light of the review published yesterday [24th September 2015] by Public Health England (PHE), which found that children in special schools have more severe tooth decay compared to children in mainstream schools, leading health charity the British Dental Health Foundation believes more needs to be done by everyone to provide adequate oral health support to vulnerable children.

The first report1 of its kind on oral health in special schools for children with severe special education needs and disabilities (SEND), found that children in these schools had higher instances of tooth extractions due to more extensive decay than in mainstream education. This is something which the charity feels the need to be addressed urgently.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation commented on the report findings:

"Children in special schools require more support in many aspects of daily life than those in mainstream schools and therefore may be at higher risk of health problems such as tooth decay. What this report shows is that not enough is being done by the authorities to safeguard these children and protect them from potentially painful and traumatic oral health problems.

Dentsit examining a kid"What the authorities, and indeed everyone, need to recognise is that all of these examples of tooth decay are entirely preventable and move to do something about it. Every single child with SEND needs to be given the same opportunity as children in mainstream schools to look after their oral health, and this involves extra support.

"We believe it is through preventative treatments and education that we will stop this becoming endemic within these schools. We are calling on the authorities, parents, teachers, support staff and dental professionals alike to work together to ensure we are giving the best possible support to these kids.

"Tooth decay can be easily prevented by reducing the amount of sugar in their diet, brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and regular visits to the dentist. These are not difficult things to do but children with SEND may need more support to do them and this must be provided."

PHE highlighted that more than one fifth (22%) of five year olds at special support schools has experienced tooth decay, while this was slightly less than at mainstream schools worryingly the cases were more severe and there were more instances of children with extracted teeth.

Tooth decay happens when sugar, which appears too often in very high levels in children's diets, reacts with the bacteria in plaque. This forms the acids that attack the teeth and destroy the enamel. After this happens many times, the tooth enamel may break down, forming a hole or 'cavity'.

Dr Carter added: "Treating children with SEND at a preventative stage in practices, with Fluoride Varnish Treatments for example, is also much easier than when problems take hold. The treatments are less invasive, quicker and more cost effective and most important have the potential to prevent oral health problems before they appear.

"Considerations should also be made on using high fluoride toothpastes for children with SEND as this will give them an added line of protection against tooth decay.

"We are supporting the proposals made in this report and calling for local authorities and NHS England to take it upon themselves to provide dental services from specially trained staff that can cater for the multiple, complex and unique needs of these children."

  1. Public Health England, Survey results of five and twelve-year-old children attending special support schools