Lords debate importance of children's oral health education and action on sugar
24 January 2018
On Thursday 18 January the House of Lords debated the issue of child oral health. The debate was secured by Baroness Gardner of Parkes, a retired dentist and member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dentistry and Oral Health, to which the BDA provides secretariat. Baroness Gardner opened the debate by paying tribute to the BDA's efforts in raising public awareness of the importance of oral health. She went on to outline multiple measures the Government should introduce to improve outcomes and reduce oral health inequalities in children, including stronger action on sugar, the need to commission more NHS dentistry and water fluoridation.
A number of Lords gave passionate speeches over the course of the debate. Lord Colwyn welcomed the new Government scheme Starting Well as first step towards a national preventive programme, but stressed that we need a scheme that is not only more widely rolled-out, but also properly and sustainably funded. He highlighted the recent cuts to NHS dental budgets, and explained that while raising awareness amongst parents of the importance of dental check-ups was important, better dental attendance among children would not become a reality until the Government ensured that enough NHS dentistry was commissioned for those who need it.
Baroness Floella Benjamin expressed concern that children's oral health has become a major public health issue, stressing that visiting the dentist on a regular basis was essential to maintaining good dental health. She concluded that "child tooth decay is a problem we can solve, if we work together and get simple things right to prevent the appalling suffering, anguish and pain children are going through today".
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Paralympic athlete and vice-president of the Local Government Association, said she was shocked by the children's hospital extraction figures and stressed that this should be a concern to us not just because of the cost to the NHS but also the long-term impact of caries on children's overall health. She emphasized the importance of oral health education and stronger action on sugar.
Responding on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care, Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen assured the Lords that improving children's oral health was a priority for the Government and restated the Conservative manifesto commitments to support NHS dentistry, improve coverage and achieve better oral health outcomes.
Closing the debate Shadow Health Minister Baroness Thornton attacked the Government's record on child oral health, referring to the Starting Well scheme as "window dressing" and suggesting the Ministers should "hang their heads in shame that we are failing our children on such a scale". She said rates of decay in England were a "badge of dishonour for our health service and for our Ministers" and concluded that "the Government has treated oral health as an optional extra for far too long".
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