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Health warnings needed to protect child oral health says BMA

The BMA (British Medical Association) is reinforcing calls for health warnings on children’s food packaging to make clear how sugary food and drinks contribute to tooth decay as a new survey shows the burden of ill oral health on hospitals and GP practices. 
New data published yesterday (Tuesday 15 May) show almost a quarter of five-year-olds who took part in a Public Health England survey showed signs of tooth decay.  
The results also suggested children from deprived backgrounds have higher levels of tooth decay compared to those less deprived; a prevalence of tooth decay of 33.7 per cent among the most deprived children compared to a prevalence of 13.6 per cent.  
This latest report adds to a body of evidence which shows more must be done to safeguard children and young people’s oral hygiene. 

One of the major causes of hospital admissions in children is tooth decay. In 2016/17, there were 42,911 hospital procedures for under 18s in England to extract multiple teeth, so severely decayed treatment needed to be undertaken in a hospital under general anaesthetic. 
This costs the health service about £36.2m, and a total cost of £165m since 2012.1 

Patients are also seeking help for tooth problems from general practice. A study published by the Royal College of General Practitioners in April 2016 indicated GPs see around 600,000 patients with dental problems each year.2
One academic study suggested this costs GPs £26.4m a year, estimating 11.7 minutes of patient contact costs GPs £44.
BMA board of science chair Professor Dame Parveen Kumar said: 

"While there’s been a steady improvement in recent years in tooth decay among children, a significant minority are still suffering preventable, painful dental health problems. While many children won’t experience tooth decay, those who do are severely affected and require complicated medical treatment to extract rotting teeth. 
"If children are drinking less sugary drinks, as a result of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, this should improve children’s oral health. However, we must not take our foot off the pedal. 
"Health warnings must make clear to parents the amount of sugar in the food and drinks they’re buying for their children. This should be in a way that’s easy to understand like how many teaspoons of sugar are in one serving. They would also make explicit how too many sugary drinks can cause tooth decay. 

"If the health secretary is serious about creating a healthier environment for our children, we hope he will consider legislating for the introduction of health warnings, regulated by the Food Standards Agency."


Notes to Editors

The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

1 - Analysis of official data by the LGA (Local Government Association) shows that 42,911 extractions of multiple teeth in under-18s took place in England in 2016/17, costing the NHS £36.2 million.
2 - Dental consultations in UK general practice and antibiotic prescribing rates: a retrospective, The British Journal of General Practice -
3 - Unit Costs of Health and Social Care 2015, Personal Social Services Research Unit -

  • Read the results of the Oral health survey of five-year-old children 2017: a report on the inequalities and prevalence and severity of dental decay, conducted by Public Health England here. 

For further information please contact:

British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JP
Telephone: 020 7383 6448 
Email: [email protected]
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