UCL News


Decay bites ever deeper into poor children's teeth

16 September 2005

Remarkable new statistics have revealed a widening gap in the levels of decay in children's teeth in the poorest and richest parts of Britain.

Five-year-olds in some of the poorest parts of the country, such as Merthyr in Wales, North Kirklees in Yorkshire, and Argyll and Clyde in west Scotland, have an average of almost four teeth decayed, missing or filled, while their counterparts in Maidstone Weald in Kent, and Suffolk Coastal, near Felixstowe, have an average of under 0.5.

The study, by the British Association for the Study of Community Dentistry, reveals that areas with the lowest rates of tooth decay are exclusively from the south of England and the Midlands. The worst areas are restricted to parts of Wales, Scotland and the north of England. …

Sugar policy will be top of the agenda tomorrow at Health Through Oral Health, a University College London conference that will bring together the country's leading experts to discuss what is driving these inequalities.

'The reason poorer children have worse teeth is a poorer diet,' said Aubrey Sheiham, professor of dental public health, UCL. 'We know if you change the taste threshold of a child, it stays with them for life. The question is how is the government going to confront the food industry?'

Paul Batchelor, an honorary senior lecturer in dental public health at UCL and national research co-ordinator of the faculty of General Dental Practice, said that the way to tackle the problem was not to focus on just the poorest areas but to help everyone: 'The government has ignored dental services for a long time; they are trying to do things now, but are tinkering around too late.'

Anushka Asthana, 'The Observer'