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Oral health needs attention in special schools

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Children in special schools require additional support for oral health a leading figure has said, after a survey by Public Health England (PHE) found that nearly a quarter of children in special support schools had tooth decay.

The survey found that 22% of children attending special support schools aged five had tooth decay, while the figure increases to 29% in children aged 12. The number of children in special support schools with a substantial amount of plaque is double that of those attending mainstream schools, with 4% and 2% respectively for five-year-olds and 20% and 10% respectively for 12-year-olds. A similar variation was observed in children aged five who had had a tooth extracted, with 6% of children in special support schools compared to 3% in mainstream schools.

Dr Sandra White, director of dental public health at PHE, said: ‘Despite children in special support having slightly lower levels of tooth decay than children in mainstream schools, they are still very high so we must not be complacent. Children in special support schools are particularly vulnerable so they require an additional package of support to prevent and treat tooth decay. Local authorities and NHS England should take it upon themselves to provide dental services with specially trained staff who can cater for the multiple complex needs of these children.’

The survey also observed variation in the rates of tooth decay across England. For five-year-olds, the North West has the highest level of tooth decay at 33% while those in the south west have the lowest at 10%. Similarly, for 12 year olds, the North West has the highest level of tooth decay at 41% and those in the South East have the lowest at 22%.

Dr White added: ‘Tooth decay is caused by too much sugar in the diet and children currently consume three times as much sugar than official recommendations. Thankfully tooth decay can be prevented by not giving children sugary foods and drinks and brushing their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first tooth comes into the mouth.’

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