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Baroness Benjamin: Healthy teeth will be teeth for life

3 min read

Lib Dem peer Baroness Floella Benjamin writes ahead of her House of Lords question on 'promoting oral health for children'.

It is good to know that there is an increasing understanding of the importance of child health and wellbeing. Of course we want our own children to be happy, healthy and fit, but only recently have we embraced the concept that the healthy child of today will create the healthy and productive adult society of tomorrow. Our childhood years are really the most formative and important years of our lives.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood which I am proud to co-Chair, holds this as its core belief; underpinning everything that we do, everything that we say and the six reports to date that we have written. We take a ‘whole child’ approach; good nutrition, lots of physical activity, play emotional health and wellbeing – all are central, none can be sacrificed  and parents, carers and teachers must be supported in advancing these goals.

Yet this ‘virtuous circle’ has a missing link – good dental health and oral hygiene. Most of us in our adult lives can probably remember our first visit to the dentist but the shocking truth we  now face is that many of today’s children will never visit a dentist at all! Indeed, they may only consider the importance of  caring for their teeth when they are admitted to hospital for advanced tooth decay and extractions, especially if they live in areas of the highest social and economic deprivation. For this reason, I warmly welcomed the Government’s announcement in May 2016 that it intended to set up 10 pilot Child Oral Health Improvement programmes in areas of the highest deprivation – but it is now the end of October and we are still waiting! We need to know when the pilots will start, how long they will last, how they will be evaluated and how the findings from them will be cascaded nationwide. The failure to mention oral health in the Government’s much truncated Child Obesity Plan was a huge missed opportunity. Ministers can remedy that now by announcing the location of the pilots and a start date.

We must ensure that all those taking responsibility for young children have the confidence to address their oral health. This will mean skilling the professionals to offer evidence-based advice whether at the pre conception stage, the antenatal and postnatal periods, in early years’ settings and at primary and secondary schools. Dental care should and must be a part of children’s daily school regime with a toothbrush and toothpaste accompanying a child to school along with their school books, PE kit and writing materials.

Gone are the early 20th century years when a 21st birthday present was often a set of false teeth and if we are what we eat we need to be able to eat in the first place!! So let’s set up the pilots, a dental awareness campaign and listen to our dentists. ‘Teeth for life’ must mean what it says!     

The Baroness Benjamin is a Liberal Democrat peer

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Read the most recent article written by The Baroness Benjamin OBE - Baroness Benjamin: How to ensure our children are able to enjoy the benefits of modern technology