A Jersey dental charity has called for “immediate” action to reduce “inequalities” being experienced in children’s dental care and change an “unacceptable” situation.
In a letter to politicians tasked with reviewing the Government's funding plans, co-founder of Super Smiles, Sarah Pollard, said that “children are waiting seven years for Orthodontic treatment and in the community department over 5,000 children are awaiting a dental appointment.”
Super Smiles, which normally provides oral hygiene education in local schools, had to stop its activities during the pandemic.
She explained that "pre‐Covid, children in Jersey already had limited access to dental care with lengthy waits for appointments that did not support the national recommended standard of care", but that the pandemic had meant that inequality in oral health is now "far greater than before the pandemic".
"The impact of covid-19 on Oral health is more severely felt by those who were already likely to have poorer health outcomes raising concerns about the creation and exacerbation of Oral health Inequalities. However, it would be a mistake to only target the low‐income families. Risk of disease is not a fixed outcome but is subject to change. Covid‐19 has been a catalyst for this change in Dental Health risk for many children from all social economic backgrounds," she explained.
"Children’s dental health has been particularly impacted on as their teeth are more vulnerable to tooth decay. Covid‐19 brought many changes to daily routine. An increase in snacking and increased frequency of sugar consumption in the home during lockdown due to the change of routine and added stresses within the family unit during this time has been well documented. Many children report not brushing their teeth as often as before, again due to the negative effect routine change had."
She added that, following disruption to Super Smiles' schools toothbrushing programme during the lockdown period, it had been difficult to re-establish brushing in schools.
"This is largely due to the autonomy the schools have, with each Head deciding if it is something they want to support rather than should support and not considering the positive effects on the children’s health. Many vulnerable children are missing out on good health opportunities because of poor support for policy implementation by Jersey Government," she explained.
Ms Pollard also noted the Government's dental department is "currently unable to support any consistent dental care", and that there is currently only one full-time dentist and one part-time dentist working in the community department.
Pictured: Ms Pollard said that the Government is "currently unable to support any consistent dental care..."
"The recall system is unable to distinguish between the low‐risk children requiring a routine dental check‐up and those who have multiple cavities," Ms Pollard continued.
"The current dental system provided by the Government does not support the most vulnerable children, is not prevention-focused and does not support the wider community in Jersey.
"The current situation is not transparent and does not allow parents to make an informed choice to possibly seek private dental health care, thus increasing the burden on the department."
She therefore called for all Primary school children currently eligible for dental care to be offered a screening by the Government "to identify prevalence and severity of disease currently experienced."
Ms Pollard also suggested the Government consider a temporary change in approach, prioritising children at greater risk.
Pictured: Super Smiles is run by Dentist Sarah Pollard and Dental Hygienist Caroline Wetherall.
She added that the charity has the "capacity with fully trained staff to provide and Oral health Prevention programme to all nursery and primary school children", with the possibility to expand into secondary schools.
She added in her closing remarks she had noticed many children who had previous experienced good health in presenting with multiple cavities in their second teeth.
"I suspect the causes are multifactorial but a lack of regular routine care and Fluoride application, together with an increase in sugar consumption has contributed to this. Parents are desperate for support and help. The current situation really is unacceptable," she said.
It follows figures published in June showing that the Jersey Dental Fitness Scheme was supporting 300 fewer youngsters than six years ago.
The scheme, which was introduced to assist parents with the cost of dental treatment, sees the Government pay a monthly fee for each child on the scheme, which is topped up by a parental contribution set by the he dentist.
In 2015, 1,065 children were on the scheme but their number reached just 747 last year, a drop of nearly a third.
This was something that Social Security Minister, Deputy Judy Martin, told Express at the time that the development of a new "dental strategy" would address.
In July, it was then revealed that the Health Department was searching for volunteers to help it resolve longstanding issues in local dental services, including reducing waiting times and inequalities in access to care.
Long waiting times were again highlighted in August, when a Health and Community Services report revealed that "key challenges remain within Community Dental, Ophthalmology and General Surgery."
"Significant work is underway within Community Dental and Ophthalmology to create short term additional capacity to expedite treatment of long waiting patients, whilst developing a sustainable long term on-island solution," it added.
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