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‘Big Bites and Pearly Whites’—new campaign set to tackle record levels of tooth decay in children

09 February 2018

Today (9 Feb) is National Toothache Day and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has released shocking images of dental decay in children to raise awareness of how important it is to look after children’s teeth.
  • Children’s dental health campaign ‘Big Bites and Pearly Whites’ launched to tackle record number of operations and hospital admissions in children
  • Chelsea and Westminster Hospital is running the campaign in partnership with local authorities and Public Health England, in the first collaboration of its kind

Today (9 Feb) is National Toothache Day and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has released shocking images of dental decay in children to raise awareness of how important it is to look after children’s teeth.

There were nearly 43,000 operations to remove children’s teeth last year in England. This makes tooth decay the top cause of non-emergency hospital admissions for children aged 5–9 in England, despite dental decay and cavities being almost entirely preventable. 

In England, almost a quarter (24.7%) of 5-year-olds have tooth decay, with oral health a huge cost to health services and society. In London, this figure rises to 27%. 

The images and statistics have been highlighted alongside the launch of an innovative new campaign to tackle children’s dental disease, ‘Big Bites and Pearly Whites’.

It is the first children’s dental health initiative co-sponsored by an acute hospital trust and local authorities, with Chelsea and Westminster Hospital having teamed up with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster City Council and Public Health England (PHE) on this project, working together to improve children’s oral health in the community.

Dr Vikram Palit, a clinical innovation fellow with Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and the local authorities, has been driving the initiative alongside the hospital’s lead paediatric dental consultant, Dr Ghaida Al-Jaddir and campaign partners.

Dr Palit said: “Ideally we want to see every child grow up free from tooth decay, because every child deserves to have the best start in life. We hope Big Bites and Pearly Whites will help make parents and carers aware of the range of problems dental disease can cause, as well as how simple they are to avoid. For example—proper brushing, eating healthy snacks, drinking water in exchange for sugary drinks and making sure children visit the dentist by the age of one all make a world of difference.”

“We don’t want to see children coming through our doors with entirely preventable dental decay—with good habits early in life, more young ones can have a better chance at a happier and healthier childhood,” Dr Palit added.

The advice is simple:

  1. Tooth brushing—twice a day for two minutes, with age-appropriate fluoride toothpaste, reaching front and back teeth.
  2. Healthy eating—children should snack on fruit and vegetables, and drink water and/or milk (save any occasional sugary treats for meal times on special occasions).
  3. Visit the dentist—at least once a year and before a child’s first birthday. NHS dental treatment is free for under 18s.

Cllr Emma Will, Kensington and Chelsea’s Lead Member for Family Services, said: “We are happy to be working with Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and Westminster Council to try and combat tooth decay in children. I want to encourage as many parents as possible to take their children for regular check-ups, it’s free and can help keep children’s teeth healthy and avoid unnecessary trips to hospital.” 

Cllr Heather Acton, Westminster City Council Cabinet Member for Adult Social Services and Public Health, said: “It is so important that we lead the way and address this problem in Westminster. We are aiming to reach children and taking the time to get the message across in an innovative way, working with schools, dentists and doctors. If your baby’s first teeth have appeared, it is time to visit the dentist. This is free and getting into a routine of taking your children to the dentist makes a real difference.”

The campaign will run for an initial three years, aiming to significantly reduce the number of children’s hospital admissions and dental extractions for tooth decay by 2020. Through a coordinated health campaign, research study and public health intervention this initiative hopes to inform future public health policy towards improving children’s oral health.