The idea of introducing a nationwide toothbrushing scheme into primary schools, as proposed by the Labour party, has whipped people into a foamy tizzy.
The toothpaste flag-wavers’ case is boosted by the fact that children from the most deprived areas are more than three times as likely to end up with rotten teeth.
In Northern Ireland, we hold the sad statistic of sending 5,000 children a year to hospital to have sugar-ravaged teeth pulled out. Many of these children, most of whom are less than 10 years old, have endured chronic pain and multiple missed days from school before they are put under.
In 2009, Scotland introduced a nursery toothbrushing programme which catered for 95% of their three- to four-year-olds. Analysis of the programme encouragingly revealed that over 10 years, the number of decayed teeth in the children dropped by 47%. Overall, it showed that preventing teeth rotting is 50% cheaper than treating the diseased teeth and it had the greatest impact on children living in deprived areas.
Sounds tickety-boo. However, the Scottish toothbrushing programme is carried out in a nursery setting where there is more time to schedule brushing and a higher ratio of adults to children.
Primary school children should, ideally, be closely supervised when brushing to ensure the teeth are effectively cleaned – children are masters at ‘toothbrush evading teeth’ techniques. This is time intensive when thinking of a class full of primary school children.
From simple observation of my own children going through primary school, I think asking teachers to add in yet another activity may prove to be unworkable in terms of time and school facilities.
Cries of ‘nanny state’ are also being hollered from the objectors’ camp. It is the parents and the responsible adults connected to the child who are the overseers of the child’s health including the teeth.
Teeth decay is not just fought on the toothbrush front, the onslaught of the mountainous amounts of dietary sugar that today’s children are contending with is drowning their general and dental health.
So, the jury is out as to whether a primary school toothbrushing scheme would be a practical or even a wise move. At least the debate is happening and I’m sure other ideas to tackle children’s tooth decay and improve the nation’s brushing habits will be conceptualised.