A dental charity is urging Early Years settings across London and the South East to sign up to their FREE LiveSmart supervised toothbrushing programmes, after concerns that children’s oral health has suffered significantly during the past nine months of lockdown and restrictions.

With reports of further lockdowns predicted in 2021, the charity says nursery managers MUST continue to act responsibly and make oral health a priority, potentially to reduce tooth decay in children by up to 30%[1].

Latest figures by the Local Government Association show nearly 45,000 hospital operations were performed to remove children’s rotten teeth during 2018/19 as a result of tooth decay and high sugar diets. In fact, with a programme of oral health education initiatives and nationwide supervised tooth brushing programmes, these procedures would be entirely preventable. Moreover, a cash-strapped NHS would save millions in costs.

The Dental Wellness Trust is also calling for all Early Years settings with regular interaction with children to be on high alert for possible safeguarding where cases are found of severe dental decay – with responsibility not lying solely with social services. Where parents or carers repeatedly fail to access dental treatment for a child’s tooth decay or leave dental pain untreated, alarm bells concerning neglect should ring for all those working with or responsible for children.

Supervised tooth brushing programmes focus on oral health advice and education to teachers by trained professionals together with the distribution of continuous free toothpaste and brush packs for daily brushing in the classroom. They form part of Public Health England’s recommendations for effective strategies to prevent early childhood decay. In September this year, the Government gave COVID-19 guidance and permission for supervised toothbrushing programmes to resume safely in nurseries and schools.

Dr Linda Greenwall, founder of Dental Wellness Trust, said: 'Although tooth decay does not discriminate, it is strongly associated with deprivation and social exclusion. This has been made worse during 2020 when dental practices were forced to shut and many children were unable to attend appointments as well as their nursery. Therefore, there has never been a greater need to resume toothbrushing schemes in Early Years settings so that any children who are suffering from dental decay are treated in primary care where possible, therefore reducing the need for onward referral into hospital.'

Dr Saul Konviser, also from the Dental Wellness Trust, added: 'Despite the lack of check-ups and increased sugar consumption, many oral health programmes, which are vital for reaching some of the country’s poorest children, have not yet restarted. In normal times we support more than 3,500 young children with supervised teeth cleaning. Our biggest worry is for those children whose tooth enamel is softer and thinner, making it more vulnerable to sugary lockdown diets.'

Alison Gellman, Dental Wellness Trust LiveSmart Supervisor, said: 'Public Health England’s guidelines state that it is safe to restart the supervised toothbrushing programmes and we have taken every precaution to follow their Covid guidelines. Better dental hygiene taught at an early age will have long term benefits for children’s teeth, fewer nursery days lost and better overall health and wellbeing of our children.'

To sign up to the FREE LiveSmart supervised toothbrushing programme, contact Charity@dentalwellnesstrust.org

[1] 2006 study in Caries Research Journal