The British Dental Association (BDA) Northern Ireland (NI) is supporting calls from the NI Assembly for root and branch reform of oral health strategy.

New analysis shows extractions of multiple teeth among under-18s could be costing the health service over £9 million a year.

Tooth decay is the number one reason for child hospital admissions in Northern Ireland – 5,122 children were admitted to hospital last year for removal of 22,699 teeth.

Based on official data, the BDA estimates the procedures – which took place under general anaesthetic – cost the service in the region of £9,347,650.

Lessons to be learned

The BDA has warmly welcomed calls from MLA Roy Beggs for authorities to revisit the approach to oral health strategy across Northern Ireland, and to learn vital lessons from the dedicated programmes in Scotland and Wales that are securing transformative improvements in children’s oral health.

The Scottish Childsmile initiative has reportedly reduced dental treatment costs by £5 million a year, through outreach in schools and nurseries.

Northern Ireland Council Chair Roz McMullan said: ‘With the health service facing huge pressures, Northern Ireland needs to confront a wholly preventable disease that not only causes untold misery, but is now costing us millions.

‘Our Oral Health Strategy is well past its sell by date. Governments in Wales and Scotland have shown there’s nothing inevitable about child tooth decay, and we can’t afford not to put those lessons into practice.

‘We have seen a patchwork of schemes make welcome progress, but what we desperately need now is a joined-up approach.’

Smaller initiatives

Dentist leaders have been encouraged by a wide range of small-scale initiatives across Northern Ireland to tackle the problem, but have called for a coordinated and appropriately funded nation-wide strategy.

Northern Ireland is at the bottom of the league table when it comes to children’s oral health outcomes in the UK, with 40% of five-year-olds showing signs of decay, compared to 25% in England.