NORTHERN Ireland's children are on a treacherous path to lifelong dental problems according to the British Dental Association NI (BDA NI).
Between 2017 and 2020 over 5,000 young people, on average, each year had rotten teeth extracted in hospitals. This figure then dipped, reflecting the impact of the pandemic where many young people were waiting for urgent dental treatment.
Most of the affected children are not even 10 years old. They are having to have teeth pulled which is understandably difficult for the child and parents to go through.
The number one cause of children's tooth extractions is decay caused by sugar and not brushing.
The consequences of poor dental health in children can have lifelong impacts such as chronic discomfort, difficulty eating, avoidance of social situations, reluctance to eat out and low self-esteem.
Statistics revealed by Health Minister Robin Swann in response to MLA's questions show that 99,369 children have had teeth extracted in a general dental or hospital setting in Northern Ireland over the past five years.
Chair of BDA NI, Roz McMullan said: "These latest combined statistics are really worrying, particularly when dental decay is highly distressing for children and their families. It affects a child's ability to socialise and causes physical pain and discomfort. Education is impacted as children cannot sleep due to pain that is completely preventable with the correct interventions from a younger age."
"We've been raising these issues for years: Government needs to step up and press forward with a coordinated approach to child oral health in the form of an updated Oral Health Strategy. It simply must be a priority".
It is a sign that society has failed our children when such high numbers of our children require a general anaesthetic to have teeth out due to entirely preventable tooth disease. The enormous levels of tooth decay seen in NI children are directly linked to areas of higher deprivation, an issue expected to worsen in the future as struggling families cannot prioritise buying toothpaste and toothbrushes.
The BDA NI urge Stormont to address oral health inequalities and invest in the future of our children's health from an earlier age. By improving current initiatives and focusing on the nationwide promotion of better dental health, future generations will reap improved mental and physical health.