Fluoride could be added to the water supply across South Yorkshire to tackle Sheffield’s extremely high levels of tooth decay in children.
The city has had high rates of child tooth decay for years but the problem has been exacerbated by families unable to get dental appointments during Covid.
Sarah Roberts, a consultant in dental public health, told a meeting that work was still underway to look at the feasibility of water fluoridation as it could drastically cut decay.
“In 2018/19, there were 41 per cent of five-year-olds surveyed from Sheffield schools that had experience of one or more decayed, missing or filled teeth. That was significantly higher than the national average of only around 23 per cent.
Lucy Davies of Healthwatch Sheffield says there’s a “huge difference between those in our city who can afford private dental care and those who cannot”
“An awful lot of work is being done in that age group. There’s universal provision of oral health packs at all nine to 12 month health visitor assessments, also to two-year-olds in deprived areas.
“There’s also supervised toothbrushing schemes, which runs in schools, nurseries and special schools, with very simple oral health training.
“If all five-year-olds in deprived areas received water fluoridation there would be an estimated fall of 28 per cent of children experiencing tooth decay and 45 to 68 per cent less two extractions.
“It would be great for Sheffield, given that we’re in one of the top three areas in terms of the number of tooth extractions that happen in England. It could have a huge impact.”
Water fluoridation across South Yorkshire could have a ‘huge impact’ in stopping children’s tooth decay, say public health officers
No dental screening in schools
Ms Roberts said dental screening in schools had “slipped by the wayside”.
“The evidence was those children that were probably most in need never actually got taken to the dentist to have the treatment done so the screening wasn’t really that effective.
“Around 2,000 children are part of the toothbrushing clubs to teach them the life skill because many children are not getting their teeth brushed at home.”
Parents can’t get dental appointments
Healthwatch Sheffield said it was increasingly concerned that the only young children getting dental care were families who could pay for private appointments.
Lucy Davies of Healthwatch said: “We have an increasing number of calls from parents whose children were born during the pandemic we never had the opportunity to connect their child with a dental surgery.
“Now they’re in a position where they’re not able to find an NHS dentist that can add them to their list or offer them an appointment.
“The stark reality is there’s a whole group of children where parents may be desperate to take them to the dentist but that isn’t an option because there is nowhere that will accept them.
“We have parents call us who are besides themselves wanting to sort something out for their children, and they may have phoned every dentist in Sheffield and not been able to access NHS care.
“That leaves only parents who can afford private care to be to be able to take the children to the dentist. There’s a huge difference between those in our city who can afford private dental care and those who cannot.”