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Dental expert calls for introduction of national oral health programme for children

(17 Oct 2017)

A dental expert has said the national roll out of an intensive oral health programme is needed to tackle the chronic levels of dental disease amongst Irish children.

Dr Brett Duane Associate Professor in Dental Public Health at Dublin Dental University Hospital, said the introduction of a similar programme in Scotland, has reduced the prevalence of tooth decay there by almost a third since its inception in 2007.

Dr Duane made the call in a joint presentation to the Irish Dental Association’s annual seminar for HSE dentists in Kilkenny, with Kirsten Fitzgerald, consultant paediatric dental surgeon at Our Lady’s Hospital Crumlin.

Dr Duane said an early dental visit  - at 12 months or within 6 months of the first tooth erupting – was a key part of the Scottish programme.

“There are a lot of sound health reasons for opting for an early visit but a lot of parents don’t realise its actually cost effective.  If the child’s first dental visit takes place at four or five you are going to end up paying more in the long run.”

“Research from the US indicates that parents who bring their children at that age end up paying twice as much as those who went in their first year. So the earlier you go, the less you pay. Of course the child and the parent also pick up good dental habits from an early age while any nervousness or anxiety is removed from the equation in the vast majority of cases”

Dr Duane saw first-hand the effectiveness of Childsmile when he worked in Scotland.

“Within the community all children receive free toothbrushes at various stages before school, with all four year olds attending nursery school receiving tooth-brushing as part of the nursery programme.   In areas of higher risk of dental disease, children receive both fluoride varnish programmes and tooth brushing programmes in the first few years of primary school."

“In a Childsmile practice the dental team all supports the oral health of a child, with specially trained dental nurses allowed by the General Dental Council to apply fluoride varnish, and provide oral health resources and oral health education to high-risk children.  The government provides additional payments to Childsmile practices, including a payment for fluoride varnish to high-risk children.”

“While a similar model – Happy Teeth - was trialled for a time in parts of Cork city, there has been no follow on at national level. At the same time our school screening programme is simply not functioning in very many areas.  We have a template in Childsmile, we just need the will to introduce it here” Dr Duane concluded.