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It's official: Teens here have worst tooth decay in UK

By Victoria O'Hara

Teenagers in Northern Ireland have the highest levels of tooth decay in the UK, shock figures have revealed.

According to the British Dental Association, the province "tops the league table for rotten teeth" with 72% of 15-year-olds suffering from decay compared to 44% in England and 63% in Wales.

The BDA(NI) has now called for a new oral hygiene strategy to be developed by the next Stormont administration to tackle the growing problem.

In 2013 more than 5,300 young people in Northern Ireland were admitted to hospital for tooth extractions.

It is the single biggest reason for the administration of child general anaesthetic.

Of those cases, dentists extracted 24,154 teeth, and 22,056 of those were rotten baby teeth.

Research has also found obvious dental decay in the milk teeth of 40% of five-year-olds.

Roz McMullan, chair of the BDA(NI) Council, said: "The next Northern Ireland Assembly has a choice.

"It can accept that extracting over 22,000 baby teeth a year is the new normal, or it can tackle this epidemic head on. Northern Ireland is topping the league table for rotten teeth.

"All decay is preventable, and dentists need to know candidates from all the parties are ready to step up and take their share of responsibility."

The BDA's new manifesto - Securing Better Dental Health For All - includes a five-point plan to improve oral standards.

  • Deliver a new oral health strategy: the existing one is 10 years old and out-of-date.
  • Real action on sugar: it is fuelling an avoidable epidemic of decay.
  • Efficient and effective regulation: the Assembly must review the costly and unfocused current regulations.
  • Cut red tape: dentists are bogged down with bureaucracy.
  • Plan for the future: with ever-growing demand, NI must ensure it is training the dental professionals it needs and that contracts are fit for the future. Ms McMullan added: "The current oral health strategy is a museum piece. We need a new plan, underpinned by the latest evidence, so we can save children, young people and their parents from unnecessary pain and suffering."

As Westminster is to press ahead with a sugar levy, dentists here are calling on the next Assembly to frame a comprehensive action plan to reduce consumption.

Ms McMullan said: "Soft drinks companies have made huge profits from an ingredient that's cheap, addictive and has no nutritional value.

"Now they have an incentive to do the right thing and reduce excessive sugar levels.

"The next NI Government has to build on this, and find new ways to help families and business make the right choices. We will need action on advertising, food labelling and public education if we're really going to turn the tide on decay."

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