Tooth decay figures for Luton children is among the worst in the country

'There's a significant link between ethnicity and dental decay'

By Euan Duncan
Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 10:14 am
Updated Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 10:16 am

A call for water fluoridation in Luton has been renewed as the town continues to have one of the highest amounts of tooth decay in five-year-old children in England, at nearly two in every five.

"The severity of tooth decay in children aged five is also above the national average at four teeth," according to a report to the March 1 borough council's scrutiny children's services review group.

Luton's high cases of tooth decay in five-year-olds at 37.6 per cent contrast with a 23.3 per cent figure nationally, explained the report.

Tooth decay in children is a concern in Luton

"Children from some ethnic minorities experience poorer oral health outcomes in terms of severity of tooth decay."

An oral health needs assessment in 2020 has given a picture of 0-5s' dental health", said senior commissioning manager for the public health team Michelle Bailey.

"Our children aged five have some of the highest levels of tooth decay nationally and in the east of England at nearly 38 per cent.

"There was a higher prevalence in certain wards, such as Challney, Saints, Biscot and Dallow.

"There's a significant link between ethnicity and dental decay. The closure of the children's centres in the town had an impact on how we deliver our services.

"We've recommissioned community dental services to provide supervised tooth brushing in our early years' settings, focusing on those four wards locally.

"One of the key findings in the needs assessment was (to take) any opportunity to provide some fluoride into the mouths of our children."

School nurses are going into reception and trying to encourage behaviour changes for those children to understand and make the right choices regarding their packed lunches and school dinners, according to Ms Bailey.

Liberal Democrat Crawley councillor Terry Keens said: "We all know it was a big mistake closing the children's centres and we're sorry it had to be done."

On the amount of commissioning work, he suggested: "It was nowhere near as expensive as this when we had those children's centres."

Ms Bailey described the epidemiology survey as a statutory requirement, costing £15,000 a year, adding: "We've had to make savings to our oral health as well.

"We commission community dental services which we did previously, but we've asked for a different approach.

"Health visitors are going in at their 12-month check working with families and giving toothbrushes to that child and any siblings.

"We've a staggered approach involving our early years' settings, our maintained nurseries, aged three and four, and again at age five in reception.

"There's that healthy lives approach, the importance of brushing your teeth, the amount of toothpaste to use and healthy eating.

"The other thing we're trying to support is making sure people can access dental services, as that's been a problem."

Labour Leagrave councillor Maria Lovell said: "It's quite concerning with the oral health. We need a report back later this year how these options and actions progress because it's quite concerning."

Director of public health Sally Cartwright offered a word of caution around the figures, saying: "The impact of our actions will be long-term. Don't expect the level of tooth decay in under fives to change quickly."

Councillor Lovell asked whether Luton could have a water fluoridation scheme.

Ms Cartwright replied: "There's a strong evidence base for it, but it's nationally political. It's not within our control. We can lobby, and look at what work happened previously."