'Half of eight-year-olds have tooth decay'

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Media captionDominic Hughes reports on the state of the teeth of children and young adults

Nearly half of eight-year-olds and a third of five-year-olds have signs of decay in their milk teeth, a national dental health survey has found.

The 2013 Children's Dental Health Survey for England, Wales and Northern Ireland also found that 46% of 15-year-olds had decay in their teeth.

But there were signs of improvement compared with 10 years ago, with an overall reduction in the number of cavities in children's teeth.

Nearly 10,000 children were surveyed.

The survey - commissioned by the Health and Social Care Information Centre - is carried out every 10 years and is seen as a good barometer of children's dental health.

Fall in decay

Overall the figures are encouraging. There were reductions in tooth decay present in the permanent teeth of 12 and 15-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland between 2003 and 2013.

The percentage of 12-year-olds affected by tooth decay fell from 43% in 2003 to 34% in 2013.

In 15-year-olds, there was a reduction from 56% to 46%.

In Scotland, dental inspections also show continued reductions in the percentage of children with tooth decay.

Figures from 2014 found that 32% of children aged five had tooth decay. Among children aged 10-11, around 28% were affected.

But large proportions of young and teenaged children continue to be affected by oral disease across the UK.

Deprived families

The survey found that rates of tooth decay were much higher among children in more deprived families, where more than 40% of five-year-olds have some decay - compared with just 29% among better-off families.

In 15-year-olds, that figure rises to nearly 60%, while among those from wealthier backgrounds, it is 43%.

Older children who were affected by oral health problems said they had impacted on their daily lives.

One in five 12 and 15-year-olds said they had experienced difficulty eating in the past three months while one in three 12-year-olds said they were embarrassed to smile or laugh because of the condition of teeth.

And parents were not immune to the impact of dental health problems.

One in five parents of 15-year-olds said they had taken time off work because of their child's oral health in the last six months.

'Serious disease'

Dr Sandra White, director of dental public health at Public Health England, said it was good news that tooth decay levels were falling and more children were brushing their teeth twice a day, but there was no room for complacency.

"Tooth decay is a serious, preventable disease and this survey echoes the need to urgently reduce the amount of sugary snacks and drinks in our children's diets.

"Fluoride is indisputable in preventing tooth decay and by brushing teeth using fluoride toothpaste and also introducing water fluoridation where needed, we can significantly improve our children's dental health."

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