BAD parenting is today blamed for the shocking state of children’s teeth in Wales.
A politician launched the astonishing attack on parents as dentists told the Western Mail it is “not unusual” for children as young as three in Wales to have their milk teeth filled.
Thousands of Welsh children are undergoing a general anaesthetic in hospital every year to have decayed teeth removed.
And other experts have revealed that some young children in the South Wales Valleys do not know what a toothbrush is or even recognise the taste of toothpaste.
Jonathan Morgan, the Conservatives’ shadow health minister, blamed “parental neglect” for three-year-olds with bad teeth.
He said: “Looking after a child’s teeth is fundamentally important – not looking after their teeth is as bad as allowing them to go outdoors without shoes. Why do we tolerate it when parents do not ensure that their children’s teeth are clean?
“We have to get real and accept that some parents out there are not doing their jobs properly.”
Official figures also reveal that:
Five-year-olds in Blaenau Gwent have an average of three More than half of five-year-old children in Wales have at least one carious tooth, rising to 70% in the South Wales Valleys – dental carries causes tooth decay and cavities;
More than one in 10 five-year-olds in parts of North and West Wales have never been to a dentist;
more than one in eight children in Neath Port Talbot have had a general anaesthetic for dentistry problems;
and there are about 9,000 instances of children having teeth removed under general anaesthetic a year in Wales compared to just 680 in Birmingham, which has fluoridated water.
But calls for Welsh drinking water supplies to be fluoridated will fall on deaf ears because of widespread public opposition to such “mass medication”.
David Thomas, a consultant in dental public health at the National Public Health Service for Wales, said: “We have a major problem in Wales and in the most deprived parts of Wales children have the worst teeth. Children who have decay in their milk teeth get decay in their permanent teeth – the same picture of decay in five-year-olds is seen in 12-year-olds. We know that children living in the most deprived areas eat more sugar and eat less healthy food.
“It is also patently clear that they do not have the same oral health hygiene and go to the dentist less. It is very sad.
“For single parent and dysfunctional families, one of the last priorities is to go to the dentist.
“When they do, these children usually turn up at the dentists’ door with toothache and five or six teeth that need to be removed.”
Jenny Randerson, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokeswoman, said: “This is a truly heartbreaking situation, which is a complete shock in the 21st century.
“How can we feel proud as a country when there are kids in some of our poorest areas who have never seen a toothbrush?
“The fluoridation issue plays an important part in the huge contrast between Wales and the Midlands but given that we would need a lengthy public debate in order to do this in Wales, there are major short-term measures that could be taken now to begin to turn this disgraceful situation around.
“This begins with much more dental hygiene education in nursery and primary schools.”
Two “super” pilot programmes to teach children as young as three how to brush their teeth will be run in North Wales and large swathes of South Wales. The scheme is part of the Assembly Government’s £4.6m Designed to Smile initiative to improve children’s oral health.
Mr Thomas said: “The tooth brushing scheme will have an impact but my view is that we should be supporting fluoridation – it is the most effective public health measure and intervention. But whether we are able to implement fluoridation is a political issue.”
Dr Paul Langmaid, Wales’ chief dental officer, said: “Parents have a key role to play in encouraging and teaching their children about the importance of cleaning their teeth regularly.
“The oral health of children is worst in deprived areas. This is unacceptable when dental decay is avoidable simply by improving diet and nutrition and encouraging young children to develop the habit of brushing their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
“In March, Health Minister, Edwina Hart, launched a specific plan to focus on improving children’s oral health in Wales.
“Improvements in oral hygiene and fluoride availability are needed to address this. The Assembly Government has no plans to fluoridate water supplies in Wales, because while we recognise the potential benefits of getting tooth surfaces in contact with fluoride, we understand some groups are opposed. Therefore, in its absence we need to provide the proven benefit of fluoride in other ways.”