Tooth decay rates in children in Wales fall, but issues remain

Dental public health experts at Public Health Wales have welcomed the findings from a recent child dental health inspection programme which shows that the proportion of young children in Wales with experience of tooth decay has continued to fall since the start of reporting in 2007/08. 

The report, which looked at 9,300 children in school year one (aged 5-6 years) in all areas of Wales, shows that both the prevalence and severity of tooth decay has reduced, but that more needs to be done to address inequalities that remain and the level of decay is still a cause for concern. 

The prevalence – the percentage of children examined in the study who have decayed, missing or filled teeth – has reduced from 47.6 per cent in 2007/08 to 32.4 per cent in 2022/23.  The severity – the average number of teeth per child which are decayed, missing or filled – has fallen from 1.98 in 2007/08 to 1.11 in 2022/23.   

However, the prevalence of decayed, missing or filled teeth is substantially higher in the areas of highest deprivation. The prevalence rate in the most deprived areas is 43.4 per cent (down from 57.6 per cent in 2007/08) compared to 20.7 per cent (down from 34.5 per cent in 2007/08) in the least deprived areas. 

The national Designed to Smile programme aims to reduce the differences seen across areas in Wales. It involves NHS Community Dental Services working with early years services, nurseries and schools to help start good habits, with supervised toothbrushing and fluoride varnish visits to help protect teeth against decay. 

A diet that is low in sugar, along with regular brushing with an age-appropriate fluoride toothpaste has the biggest impact on children’s teeth and will help prevent decay. 

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