Children face ‘triple whammy’ of coronavirus dental dangers

Dentists warn of rising tooth decay and more operations than ever to remove children’s teeth

Thousands of children could soon require hospital operations to remove unsavable teeth due to a ‘triple whammy’ of dental dangers.

Hospitals in England carried out an average 177 operations a day on children and teenagers last year to remove teeth, costing the NHS more than £40m.

Now the Association of Dental Groups is warning that lockdown will make the problem significantly worse as:

1. Many children have stopped going to the dentist or been unable to get appointments
2. Children are more likely to snack on more sugary foods and drinks while stuck at home
3. Community oral health programmes for children have been interrupted

Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Association of Dental Groups said:

“Before lockdown, there were multiple operations being conducted every day to remove children’s teeth across the UK. Since then children have faced a triple whammy of dental dangers so it’s inevitable that things will get worse.

“When routine appointments restart, dentists could have their work cut out dealing tooth decay among children. In hospitals all the signs are that we’re looking at more operations than ever to remove children’s teeth.”

There is mounting evidence than millions of people have been staying away from dental surgeries or being unable to get appointments during lockdown. A major new poll by the ADG suggests that children in 50% of households across the UK have missed or decided against a visit to the dentist since lockdown began.

The UK already the lowest number of dentists per capita of any G7 country, leading to growing concerns that a backlog of care may well occur after the pandemic unless measures are taken to aid recruitment into the profession.

Dentists have also expressed concern over ‘lockdown diets’ including more sugary treats and fizzy drinks having an adverse effect on children’s oral health. One survey for a member of ADG found that 77% of dentists expect the ‘lockdown diet’ to have an adverse impact on the nation’s oral health. Other anecdotal evidence suggests an increase in sugary baking particularly at the beginning of lockdown and an increase in sugary snacking.

Finally, dental professionals have expressed concern over community dental services which normally deliver child oral health improvement programmes through Local Authorities, which have now been disrupted. These are early intervention, preventative programmes in areas of likely poor child oral health.

Sue Jordan, Assistant Director, Oral Health Improvement for CDS-CIC, which deliver community dental services and oral health improvement across much of east and central England said:

“Over lockdown 90% of our outreach to the most vulnerable communities in our regions has been shut down. In normal times we support more than 2000 young children to do supervised teeth cleaning and today not one child will be receiving that help. We have helped children as old as three who didn’t know which way to hold a toothbrush. They won’t be receiving that help any more or the structure that they need to prevent dental problems. They won’t be able to get that help until post-covid routines can be normalised either.

“All the evidence we have suggests that early preventative care for dentistry has a huge return on investment. We know that our work can save up to nearly £7 for every pound spent. After Covid, that bill will eventually come due with massively negative consequences for the children and the NHS.

“Dentistry really is a critical preventative service, the problems that get worse for these children suffer during lockdown can only get exponentially worse over time. we are going to have a real uphill struggle getting back on track when this is all over.”