Schools should help children to brush their teeth at the start and end of each day, under new official guidance which critics said had turned the state into “supernanny”.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said it had drawn up the advice for local authorities because many parents “do not even realise” their children’s teeth needed brushing.
Under the proposals, schools will be asked to run daily sessions, physically helping children aged between three and 11 to brush their teeth up to twice daily.
Pupils will be also be given free toothbrushes and fluoride toothpaste to take home, in a bid to stop children being “condemned to a life with rotten teeth,” Nice said.
Health officials said the plans were necessary because too many parents did not even realise that their children’s teeth needed brushing, while others assumed the task was “trivial”.
But last night patients groups said the plans were “simply daft” and would encourage parents to think that basic childrearing skills could be devolved to the state.
Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, said: “Nice has often been accused of pushing nanny state measures but this is more like a ‘supernanny state’.
“What will they suggest next, that parents can drop their children off at school naked and unwashed, and leave the state to step in and do the rest?” she said.
The Nice advice for local authorities, says areas where children are at high risk of poor oral health should consider bringing in the measures first.
But officials said ideally all schools should introduce twice daily brushing for all children at nursery and primary school.
Professor Elizabeth Kay, foundation dean for the Peninsula Dental School in Plymouth, one of the authors of the Nice guidance, said: “It would be great if every school did it but the places where it is needed are those where there is most disease.”
“Ideally it would be twice a day but once a day, brushing with a fluoride toothpaste would make a difference,” she said.
Officials insisted the advice was not intended to absolve parents of their responsibilities, but to prevent cases in which children’s teeth might otherwise be neglected.
Prof Kay said: “In families that we are most worried about, sometimes they don’t even realise that little children’s teeth should be brushed. I have talked to a teenage mother who was absolutely amazed that she should be brushing her child’s teeth.”
She said she was concerned that there was a “growing polarisation” in society, with worse dental health in deprived areas.
Mandy Murdoch, a public health specialist involved in the guidelines said the advice intended to take advantage of the “captive audience” in nurseries and schools.
Nice said the recommendations did not necessarily mean teachers would need to devote lesson time to teeth brushing, saying such tasks could be carried out by teaching assistants, and could be turned into fun group activities.
Prof Kay said: “Around 25,000 young children every year are admitted to hospital to have teeth taken out.
“Given that we know how to prevent dental disease this really should not be happening. If there were a preventable medical condition which caused thousands of young children – mostly around five years old – to end up in hospital to have body parts removed, there would be an outcry.”
Professor Mike Kelly, the director of the centre for public health at Nice, said: “Many children have poor diets and poor mouth hygiene because there is misunderstanding about the importance of looking after children’s early milk teeth and gums.
“They eat too much sugar and don’t clean their teeth with fluoride toothpaste. As a society we should help parents and carers give their children the best start in life and act now to stop the rot before it starts.”