City with worst tooth decay in children sees marked improvement

Children in Leicester are brushing their teeth once a day when at nursery. Credit: ITV News Central
  • Written by ITV News Central Health Correspondent, Nancy Cole.

An East Midlands city, that has held the reputation for the worst children’s teeth in the country, has seen a marked improvement in tooth decay through an initiative to teach under 5’s how to brush.

Three years ago, more than half of all under 5's in Leicester were reported to have problems with their teeth.

An initiative called “Healthy Teeth, Happy Smiles” was launched and rolled out to nursery schools in the city and is beginning to see a healthy improvement.

Once a day during their time at nursery, toddlers and young children armed with a toothbrush partake in two minutes of supervised brushing.

90 nurseries across the city have signed up to the Leicester City Council programme to promote oral health early on.

The initiative was launched in 2014 after the city was named the worst place in the UK for tooth decay in children under the age of 5.

Data from Public Health England revealed 53% of under 5’s had decayed, missing or filled teeth. In contrast, to 28 per cent in the rest of the UK.

In 2015 an improvement has been seen of 45% now experiencing problems with their teeth. An 8% reduction in levels of decay.

Tiffany Burch, Public Health Registrar for the City Council believes results taken this year will record a greater improvement.

She said: “We went from being the worst in the country. From what we are seeing and what we are hearing is that people are at least better understand their oral health, they're going to the dentist more regularly, they're more engaging with our programme, and based on those sorts of things we know that people are getting the message.”

As part of the initiative, nurseries are given free toothbrushes and fluoride toothpaste to carry out supervised sessions. It’s about getting the message of healthy teeth through early on.

Siobhan McGrath runs Shanklin Day Nursery, which signed up to the programme at the start. She said:

Dentist and Chair of the Leicestershire Dental Network Partnership for NHS England, Jason Wong, believes parents need to be more aware of how important infant teeth are.

In 2016, 172 under 4’s across Leicestershire underwent general anesthetic for tooth extraction.

Although oral health in Leicester is improving, many challenges do remain. Leicester City Council developed the initiative as its first Oral Health Promotion Strategy in 2014, with the ambition to achieve a 10% increase in the proportion of 5 year olds in Leicester with no signs of dental disease by 2019.

As with all public health improvements it takes time to see long-term change. 70% of nursery schools in Leicester have already signed up to the programme with more than 6,500 children under the age of 5 learning what it means to care for their teeth.