Suffolk: Dentist take-up increases but more need to sign up to stop the rot
CHILDREN as young as three are regularly having all of their teeth removed because they are not being taken to a dentist.
Health bosses said that although the number of people now visiting an NHS Suffolk dentist has increased, many more need to sign up to prevent decay and other serious conditions.
Community healthcare teams, which are part of the trust’s ongoing drive to increase education in oral health, have said that it is still “relatively common” to see pre-school age children who need an entire mouth of rotting teeth removed under general anesthetic.
Dentists in Ipswich have also reported seeing an increase in “occult” or “hidden caries”, a form of decay concealed under the enamel that can be missed without regular check-ups.
According to figures from the Suffolk Primary Care Trust, the percentage of the county’s population seeing a dentist last month was 58.52%.
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The figure, which is one of the highest take-ups seen in the county, is significantly higher than 54.19% in July 2009.
Fiona Theadom, NHS Suffolk’s senior primary care manager, said although the figures were “going in the right direction”, many people still believe there are no dentists available after national reforms in 2006 saw many abandon the health service.
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Ms Theadom said: “The figures are a continuing upward trend, which is good. We have been doing marketing and advertising and articles over the last few years and progress has been made. We have also been piggy backing onto national campaigns such as smile month with some success.
“But we have to keep the numbers signing up to dentists growing.”
She added: “People still don’t realise that they can go to a dentist accepting NHS patients. There is also a core group that I think will only go to the dentist when they are actually in pain.
“Those patients, when they are seen in one of our practices for urgent treatment, are encouraged to find a dentist but unfortunately they only want to go when it actually hurts.”
The trust also has a community healthcare team which ensures dental cover among those with special treatment needs, including those with learning disabilities, phobias and drug addictions.
Amy Schiller, clinical lead for Suffolk Community Healthcare’s community dental service, said a large part of their work also involves increasing the profile of oral health education at schools and meeting with socially deprived families.
She said: “In some senses we are the service that gets referred people who don’t cope with treatment very well.
“The other part of our remit, apart from those who need specialist treatment, is seeing socially deprived families. “Quite often we find that children don’t brush their teeth at all, or they might be sharing a brush with their family.
“We also deal with patients who need general anaesthetic for their treatment, because they cannot undergo it, perhaps because they are too young. Unfortunately, it is relatively common to carry out full clearance (removal of all teeth) of three and four year-olds.”
Mrs Schiller said the procedures were a financial burden.
“Anaesthetic is expensive. It is a huge cost for the county, it is part of the reason we have got a sedation service to try and guide people away from general anaesthetic.”
She added: “And of course when anaesthetic is necessary, it is not 100% safe. Of course it is a done in the safest and most secure environment as possible, but obviously we must remember tooth decay is 100% avoidable.”
There are also long-term implications for a child who has had many, if not all, teeth removed.
Mrs Schiller said: “If a child has a full clearance they won’t have any front teeth until they are about seven or eight, which is obviously hugely embarrassing for them at school.
“Also teeth are guided by the roots of the baby teeth so if you have a complete clearance it means teeth are then erupting without alignment, meaning the child may need braces and further treatment. Also it impacts on basic things like eating and speech development.”
Mrs Schiller said that despite the increased uptake many children were not being taken to the dentist until it’s too late.
“By the time a child is two they should be going to dentist regularly and getting advice and treatment before problems set in.”
Kenneth Ng, principal dentist at Ipswich Dental Care said he had noticed other problems worsened by infrequent check ups.
“My experience is that although you do get full clearance from decay, since the use of fluoride we are getting more occult caries (a form of hidden decay).
“We see children up to 10 and 11-years old apparently with no decay, but as soon as you do an x-ray you see the decay.”
He added: “It’s important to get regular checks and x-rays because it’s possible things like that can be missed.”
There are currently 36 dental practices in Suffolk accepting NHS patients.
To find an NHS dentist in your area phone Suffolk Patient Advice and Liaison Service free on 0800 389 6819 email address Pals@suffolkpct.nhs.uk