More than 5,000 children had almost 23,000 teeth taken out in Northern Ireland hospitals last year, figures show.
The statistic emerged as the British Dental Association Northern Ireland called for more to be done to tackle the region’s oral health – which they say is the worst in the UK.
And the body, that represents local dentists, says preventable tooth decay is costing taxpayers millions of pounds per year. The BDA has thrown its weight behind calls for “root and branch reform of oral health strategy”.
They say “new analysis shows extractions of multiple teeth among under-18s could be costing the health service over £9million a year”.
A spokesman added: “Tooth decay is the number one reason for child hospital admissions in NI. 5,122 children were admitted to hospital last year for removal of 22,699 teeth. Based on official data the BDA estimate the procedures – which took place under general anaesthetic – cost the service in the region of £9,347,650.”
The BDA says they “warmly welcomed calls from MLA Roy Beggs for authorities to revisit their approach to oral health strategy across NI, and to learn vital lessons from the dedicated programmes in Scotland and Wales that are securing transformative improvements in children’s oral health”.
They say the Scottish Childsmile initiative, which offers advice on looking after children’s teeth from birth up to 12, has reportedly reduced dental treatment costs by £5million a year, through “outreach in schools and nurseries”.
A spokesman said: “Dentist leaders have been encouraged by a wide range of small scale initiatives across NI to tackle the problem, but have called for a co-ordinated and appropriately funded NI-wide strategy.
“Northern Ireland is at the bottom of the league table when it comes to children’s oral health outcomes in the UK, with 40% of 5-year-olds showing signs of decay, compared to 25% in England.”
Northern Ireland Council Chair Roz McMullan said: “With the health service facing huge pressures, Northern Ireland needs to confront a wholly preventable disease that not only causes untold misery, but is now costing us millions.
“Our Oral Health Strategy is well past its sell-by date. Governments in Wales and Scotland have shown there’s nothing inevitable about child tooth decay, and we can’t afford not to put those lessons into practice.
“We have seen a patchwork of schemes make welcome progress, but what we desperately need now is a joined-up approach.”
The Childsmile initiative combines elements including supervised brushing in nurseries/early years with ‘targeted components’ like fluoride varnish application to children at most risk.
The BDA says tooth brushing packs and educational resources are also provided.
They added: “The dental profession would view this approach as a gold standard, in terms of providing a joined up strategy that actually seeks to reach and change behaviour among non-attenders, often from deprived backgrounds.
“The supervised brushing elements of the programme have been so successful they have been exported to countries as far afield as Chile and Israel. NSW in Australia announced it was adopting this policy in the last few weeks.”
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