Calls have been made for government to renew its focus on oral health in Northern Ireland at an oral health summit held at Stormont on Thursday.

The British Dental Association Northern Ireland’s Oral Health Matters summit saw health stakeholders descended on Stormont to hear from dental experts on the state of oral health in the nation, including those involved in delivering care to the most vulnerable children and elderly, BDA NI representatives, the chief dental officer, and the head of dental services at HSCB.

‘Dental disease is almost entirely preventable, yet every day dentists continue to see unacceptably high numbers of often very young children present to have multiple teeth extracted under general anaesthetic’, commented Caroline Lappin, chair of the BDA NI Council.

‘The sugar epidemic is fuelling ill health, and we need to take action now here in Northern Ireland.

‘At the other end of the age spectrum, we are seeing an explosion of increasingly complex oral health needs from a rapidly growing elderly population that are also retaining some of their natural teeth into old age.

‘Currently, resources are insufficient to meet the level of need, which is predicted to multiply in the coming years.

‘In light of the significant challenges we face, the case for a renewed focus and vision for oral health is undeniable.’

Commenting on oral health in the country’s older population, she added: ‘We desperately need to turn the page on oral health outcomes here.

‘Today’s event is about bringing key stakeholders together, and widening out the conversation to those with influence to bear over the oral health outcomes of young children and elderly adults.

‘We are delighted that the desire on the part of dentists to see oral health prioritised has resonated widely.

‘Reconnecting oral health with general health, prioritising prevention and addressing common risk factors such as sugar consumption is key if we are serious about making progress on public health outcomes.’

Improving oral health

Oral health in Northern Ireland has, for many years, been considered the worst in the whole of the UK, according to BDA NI.

Despite recognised progress, considerable challenges continue to be faced in 2019, not least affecting the youngest and oldest cohorts of the population.

For example, just 19% of 15-year-old children were considered to have ‘good oral health’ according to the most recent Child Oral Health Survey published in 2015, while almost 5,000 children faced tooth extraction under general anaesthetic in Northern Ireland in 2017/18  – three times higher pro-rata than England.

The country’s Community Dental Service is currently struggling to provide a comprehensive screening and treatment service for elderly care home residents, according to BDA NI, and given demographic changes, these pressures are only set to increase.

‘For children to have the best start in life, it’s time that we turned the page on having the worst child oral health outcomes across these islands’, commented Youlla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland commissioner for children and young people commented.

‘Behind the shocking statistics are individual children and young people who deserve better.

‘Oral health absolutely matters to children; more can and should be done, and I fully support renewed vision and commitment towards tackling oral health inequalities that are so apparent.’