My Lords, I declare my interest as a now fully retired dental surgeon with over 40 years’ experience and a fellow of the British Dental Association.
All too often when we speak about our health system, oral health is conspicuously absent from the debate, and this morning is no exception so far. Both the Government and Opposition seem united in seeing a more integrated approach to delivering health and social care services as the key to ensuring the future sustainability of the NHS. It is essential that dentistry is factored in and included in any wider health strategies, and that the interplay between oral health and general health, and dentistry budgets and other NHS budgets, features in any discussions on healthcare provision.
An excellent report published by the Faculty of Dental Surgery reveals how much further we need to go in our fight against tooth decay. A third of five year-olds in England are still suffering from caries, and within that group the average child has at least three teeth affected. It is simply shocking that in this day and age tooth decay—an entirely preventable condition—continues to be the most common cause of hospital admissions among five to nine year-olds, with 500 primary school-age children requiring hospital treatment every week. This not only causes the children and their parents unnecessary stress and pain but is also a complete waste of NHS resources, costing the taxpayer over £30 million a year.
A fifth of five year-olds eligible for school meals have severe or extensive tooth decay, compared with just one in 10 among those from more privileged backgrounds. The situation is particularly alarming considering that approximately 90% of dental problems are preventable and the damage they cause is cumulative and costly. We must also raise awareness of the risks of tooth decay, especially of the impact of sugar consumption on children’s teeth. I fully agree with the BDA that no option should be left off the table in the efforts to end Britain’s addiction to sugar. Possible measures range from lowering the recommended daily allowance, through action on marketing and labelling, to possible sales taxes.
I also urge the Minister to consider investing in a national oral health programme to drive improvements in children’s oral health in England, following and learning from the success of such programmes in Scotland and Wales. I once again urge the Government to consider the overwhelming worldwide scientific evidence which clearly points to fluoridation being a safe and effective way to fight caries and narrow the significant inequalities in children’s oral health across the country, and to encourage local authorities that do not yet use this resource to introduce water fluoridation schemes.Noble Lords will all agree with me that a shift in focus from treatment to prevention is crucial if we are to ensure the NHS will be able to face the challenges of the future. This statement is as true in the area of dentistry as it is elsewhere in our health system.
My time is up. I was going to say a few things about oral cancer and the importance of the dental team in the new tobacco control strategy, and was going to bring your Lordships good news of a dental treatment that does not involve drilling.