Taking a stand for children’s oral health
Children’s oral health is a hot topic in the UK right now. While statistics show improvements over time, there is much more still to do. In particular, this applies to the inequalities being seen between different areas of the UK.
Josh Kelly – dental therapist at Rodericks Dental’s Cefn Coed Dental Practice in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales – explains the situation they face with regards to children’s oral health:
“Data shows that 5-year-old children in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf have some of the highest dental decay rates in Wales – nearly 52% of children living in Merthyr Tydfil and just over 50% in Rhondda Cynon Taf have experienced decayed, missing or filled teeth (DMFT).
“Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf come under the Cwm Taf healthboard. Cwm Taf is the area with the highest under 18s DMFT rate in relation to its population throughout Wales. A 1.59% prevalence of General Anaesthetics (GA) was given to under 18s for tooth extractions between 2017-2018. This is much higher than the nationwide average of 0.9%. Between the same dates, Cwm Taf accounted for 65 of the 170 children under 2 years old having General Anaesthetic in the whole of Wales for tooth extractions. As a result of all this, intervention in the area is vital.”
A divided UK
Unfortunately, there is a similar story in various areas of the UK. In Rochdale and Salford, 47% and just under 45% of 5-year-olds had experienced decay respectively, compared to the 23% average across England. Deprived areas tend to experience worse health outcomes than their less deprived counterparts. Josh discusses why this can provide such a barrier to oral health:
“Working in an area like Merthyr Tydfil, with high levels of social depravity, we have a two-part fight on our hands. First, we need to get young children to the dentist. But second, we need to educate the parents – if adults don’t care for their own teeth properly, they are less inclined to see the importance of caring for their children’s teeth. This is the greatest challenge we face. We need to help adults improve their oral health so that they can pass on good habits to their kids.”
Improving children’s oral health
Josh goes on to share his ambition for Baby Teeth DO Matter and how he hopes to improve children’s oral health in his area:
“I was happy to participate in the Baby Teeth DO Matter campaign, raising awareness of the importance of children adopting healthy dental habits early in order to prevent tooth decay. I visit the local GP surgery and try to speak to the children and parents seeing the health visitor. During sessions, I cover how and when to brush the child’s teeth and provide guidance on products to use. Also, I recommend toothpaste with the appropriate amount of fluoride and discuss the basics of a good oral health regime.”
The long-term goal
Looking ahead, Josh is passionate about continuing momentum of the initiative. In the long-run, Baby Teeth Do Matter could have a significant impact on local children’s oral health.
“Rodericks’ Cefn Coed Dental Practice is one of a few practices to collaborate with the Cwm Taf health board to allow delivery of the Baby Teeth DO Matter initiative,” Josh continues. “The practice provides me with a morning a week to visit the GP practice to provide the scheme. The long-term goal of the campaign is to highlight the need for oral health from a young age. Ultimately, I hope it helps to improve the oral health of children in the area and this will be reflected in future DMFT and GA rates. In addition, children will become more familiar with the dental practice. This will help them avoid dental anxiety and enjoy good oral health in the future.
“I am pleased with what we’ve achieved so far, with many more children under 2 years old attending the practice. In an ideal world, I’d like children to be seen at 6 months for their first appointment, and this is what we’re working towards.”
About Josh Kelly
Josh graduated in Dental Hygiene/Therapy from Cardiff University’s School of Dentistry in 2014. Ever since, he’s been providing care in Rodericks Dental’s Cefn Coed Dental Practice, Merthyr Tydfil. His interests lie in treating nervous patients in a calm environment, as well as the oral health of paediatric patients and the importance of an early introduction to the dental environment.