Nearly a third of five-year-olds in England has tooth decay, study shows

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Nearly one-in-three youngsters aged five in England has tooth decay, figures show.

Data from the National Dental Epidemiology Programme for 2021 to 2022 shows that 29.3% of children aged five have enamel decay or more serious decay to the layer of dentin under the enamel.

Regionally, this figure ranged from 23.3% in the South West to 38.7% in the North West.

Of the one in three children with any decay, 23.7% had the more serious dentinal decay.

Overall, an average of three out of about 20 total teeth were affected.

The figures showed that children in north west England were most likely to have experienced dentinal decay (30.6%) while, at local authority level, Brent in London had the highest proportion, at 46%.

Overall, children living in the most deprived areas of England were almost three times more likely to have experience of dentinal decay (35.1%) as those living in the least deprived areas (13.5%).

About 6.6% of children had dentinal decay of incisor teeth in England, with the figure being lowest in the South West (5%) and highest in London (8.6%).

Overall, 2% of children in England have advanced tooth decay, while one in five (21.2%) children had some dental plaque.

The report said: “The cause of dental decay is well understood and is related to the frequent exposure of teeth to fermentable carbohydrates, most commonly through eating and drinking sugary snacks and drinks.

Dentist figures
Children in north-west England were the most likely to have suffered dental decay (Rui Vieira/PA)

A total of 62,649 children were included in the analysis, which represents 9.1% of the England population at age five.

The report said that while inequalities in those with tooth decay fell from 2008 to 2015, there have been no further reductions since then.

British Dental Association chairman Eddie Crouch said:  “England’s oral health gap is widening, but ministers remain asleep at the wheel.

“Time and again we hear the right noises but see literally no action to break the link between decay and deprivation.

“Whether it’s providing access to basic care, rolling out tried and tested programmes in schools, or fluoridating water, our youngest patients require deeds not words.”

David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Untreated dental conditions remain one of the most prevalent diseases affecting children and young people’s ability to speak, eat, play and socialise.

“Oral health inequality is expected to grow owing to the scale of backlogs in primary care, which limit the chance to catch problems early.

“The Government should recommit to vital measures to combat childhood obesity and diet-related ill health, such as the sugar levy which has helped cut down the consumption of drinks with high sugar content.”

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