In latest public health guidance, NICE has called on local authorities to improve the oral health of their communities through better advice and support in oral hygiene.
Dental problems such as tooth decay and gum disease can affect a person’s ability to speak, eat, smile and socialise. They can be painful, and in cases, can lead to the need for surgery under general anaesthetic to remove decayed teeth.
However, such problems are largely preventable through effective oral hygiene habits and healthy diets.
In England, standards of oral health vary widely, particularly among younger children. This was highlighted in a recent Public Health England survey which found that in areas such as Leicester, more than a third of children showed signs of tooth decay, compared with just 2 per cent in other parts of the country.
Vulnerable people – such as the sociality isolated, the elderly and the frail, and those from lower socioeconomic groups – are also likely to have poor oral health. This is because it is often difficult for people from these groups to access dental services. Latest guidance on oral health includes a range of recommendations to help standardise and improve levels of care in England and Wales.
The guidance is aimed at local authorities, health and wellbeing boards, commissioners, directors of health, and frontline practitioners working generally in health, social care and education.
It states that local authorities should consider supervised tooth-brushing and fluoride varnishing schemes for areas where children are at high risk of poor oral health.
Groups that are responsible for an oral health needs assessment and strategy should developing an oral health strategy based on a needs assessment.
Public service environments should promote oral health, and information and advice on oral health should be included in all local health and wellbeing policies.
In addition, oral health should be promoted in the workplace, and local authorities and other commissioners should ensure frontline health and social care staff should be given training in the promotion of oral health.
Elizabeth Kay, Foundation Dean for the Peninsula Dental School, Plymouth, said: “Around 25, 000 young children every year are admitted to hospital to have teeth taken out. Given that we know how to prevent dental disease this really should not be happening.
“If there were a preventable medical condition which caused thousands of young children (mostly around 5 years old) to end up in hospital to have body parts removed there would be an outcry.
“These guidelines offer local authorities an opportunity and evidence as to how they can stop the most vulnerable children and adults in their areas from suffering from the pain, trauma and lifetime negative effects of tooth decay.”
Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health at NICE, said: “We know from Public Health England that there are wide regional differences in oral health.
“The situation is bleak for many adults as well as children in disadvantaged areas. Diet, poor oral hygiene, smoking, alcohol, and a lack of understanding about oral health are causing tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss and increasing the risk of mouth cancers. These are also the risk factors causing many chronic conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.”