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More must be done to tackle dental health inequalities across Wales, survey shows

1 February 2024

A parent teaching their child to brush their teeth correctly

Wales has seen a gradual decline in levels of dental decay over the past decade, but a recent survey suggests this is beginning to plateau, and dental health inequalities amongst Wales’s most deprived communities remain a harsh reality.

Researchers from the Welsh Oral Health Information Unit at Cardiff University’s School of Dentistry have collaborated with Public Health Wales and the NHS Community Dental Service to survey the oral health of 5 year olds across Wales, for the first time since 2015/16.

Dental disease and tooth decay can significantly impact a young person’s quality of life, with typical symptoms including toothache, sleep loss, and difficulties when eating.

An oral health survey in 2007/08 suggested that 14 out of a class of 30 children would experience tooth decay, with this number falling to 10 out of 30 children in 2015/16. Since then, the situation has remained largely unchanged according to the most recent survey in 2022/23, which assessed the oral health of 9,376 children from state-funded schools across Wales.

This survey also highlighted how a young person’s socio-economic background continues to influence the likelihood that they will experience tooth decay, with levels of dental disease in Wales’s most deprived communities remaining significantly higher than in more affluent communities.

The pandemic put a stop to initiatives to tackle tooth decay in young people such as ‘Designed to Smile’, and it’s hoped that the reintroduction of initiatives like this, and the emergence of new ones such as BRIGHT resources, will help address dental inequalities across Wales. However, there is no doubt that more must be done.

Dr Anwen Cope, Senior Clinical Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Dental Public Health said:

Whilst we continue to see small improvements in the number of teeth affected by decay, the gap between the most and least deprived children in our communities endures. On a day-to-day basis, limiting sugary drinks and snacks and brushing children’s teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste gives them the best protection against tooth decay. However, we also need greater scrutiny of the society our children are growing up in. We talk about “unhealthy choices” but we need a greater focus on “unhealthy environments”.
Dr Anwen Cope Senior Clincial Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Dental Public Health

The Welsh Oral Health Information Unit is currently working with Public Health Wales and Community Dental Service teams to survey the oral health of secondary-school aged children, and the results of this will be released in 2026.

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