Dentists call for sugar-free school meals
Dental surgeons in England have urged the government to encourage schools to provide sugar-free meals in a crackdown on cases of tooth decay.
Around 25 per cent of five-year-old children are affected by the condition, which is the leading cause of hospital admissions among children aged five to nine over the last three years according to the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
In a report, the Faculty suggested that supervised teeth-brushing schemes should be introduced in schools across England and Wales over the next three years, while recommending schools become sugar-free.
It has also asked for further guidelines on healthy packed lunches to be made available for parents.
The Theresa May administration had sought to improve oral health in children and published a green paper on dealing with preventable health problems before Boris Johnson replaced her as prime minister.
The Department for Education has responded, saying schools in England already have to provide nutritious school meals and restrict foods that are high in sugar.
A DfE spokesperson said: "This includes a ban on drinks with added sugar, chocolate or sweets in school meals and vending machines.
"Additionally, we are in the process of updating these standards to further reduce the sugar content of school meals."
Despite this, the Faculty has said there is still work to do.
Professor Michael Escudier, the dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery, said that the rate of tooth decay is "worrying".
He said: "It is incredibly worrying that levels of tooth decay among children in England remain so high, especially when you consider that it is almost entirely preventable through simple steps, such as brushing twice a day with appropriate-strength fluoride toothpaste, visiting the dentist regularly and reducing sugar consumption.
"The scourge of child dental decay cannot be allowed to continue. Everyone needs to play their part in ensuring our children have healthy, happy teeth.”
Amid the high tooth decay rate, official statistics show that 41 per cent of under-18s were not seen by a NHS dentist in 2018. Meanwhile, 77 per cent of children aged between one and two did not see a dentist at all in that time.
Existing guidelines recommend all children should have a routine dental check-up once a year and the Faculty of Dental Surgery has said that people need to be made more aware of this.
However, the British Dental Association has aired the view that many parents are unaware that dental check-ups and treatments are free for under-18s.
Its chairman, Mick Armstrong, has suggested that more emphasis be placed on preventative measures, calling for investment into a national oral health programme for children in England to help develop good oral hygiene habits in early years.
Armstrong said: "It's a scandal that tooth decay remains the number one reason for child hospital admissions. We will not see real progress until ministers start going further and faster on prevention.”
Referring to existing legislation, the Faculty of Dental Surgery has also suggested extending the existing soft-drinks levy to cover sugary dairy drinks. It has also recommended in its report that the government limits advertising for products with a high glycemic index.