A new survey by Public Health England (PHE) has found that children in special schools are slightly less likely to have severe tooth decay compared with children educated in mainstream schools – but are more likely to have teeth extracted.
Increased levels of tooth decay are caused by higher levels of sugar in the diet of the general population – as well as lapses in dental hygiene.
The first national survey of oral health in special schools – schools for children with severe special education needs and disabilities (SEND) – show that those who experienced decay have more teeth affected and their oral hygiene is poorer.
The number of children in special support schools with a substantial amount of plaque is double that of those attending mainstream schools – 4% and 2% respectively for 5-year-olds and 20% and 10% respectively for 12-year-olds.
The survey – compiled by region – shows wide variation in tooth decay prevalence and severity, ranging from 10% to 33% for 5-year-olds and 22% to 41% for 12-year-olds.
The North West region has the poorest dental health for both age groups in special support schools.
In both age groups, those with a behavioural, emotional or social difficulty have the highest levels of tooth decay – 28% of 5-year-olds and 42% of 12-year-olds.
Director of Dental Public Health at PHE, Dr Sandra White, said:
“Tooth decay is caused by too much sugar in the diet – and children currently consume three times as much sugar as 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.
“It’s also important to visit the dentist as early as possible to receive advice on good oral hygiene and to have free preventative treatment like fluoride varnish.
“Despite children in special support schools 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.
“As in mainstream schools, deprivation has an impact on tooth decay levels among special support school pupils – those from the poorest households have the highest levels of tooth decay.
“The regional differences found in the survey were consistent between special support and mainstream schools – therefore a continued focus on tackling wider inequalities is needed.”
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