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Poor children 'have worse teeth'

More than a third of 12-year-olds and more than a quarter of 15-year-olds say they have been embarrassed to smile or laugh due to how they felt about the condition of their teeth, research has found.

Figures released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) also show that just under a third (31%) of five-year-olds and nearly half (46%) of eight-year-olds have decay in their milk teeth.

Its survey of more than 13,500 children and nearly 10,000 dental examinations found that 41% of five-year-olds from more deprived families had tooth decay, compared to 29% from less deprived families. Well over half (59%) of 15-year-olds from more deprived families had tooth decay compared to 43% from more less deprived families.

The survey showed reductions in the proportions of 12 and 15-year-olds with obvious decay in their adult teeth since the last time the survey was carried out in 2003.

However, tooth decay was still found in 34% of 12-year-olds (compared to 43% in 2003) and 46% of 15-year-olds (56% in 2003).

Just 38% of children were classed as having good overall oral health, meaning they had no obvious decay, no tooth surface loss into dentine (the layer of the tooth under the enamel) and no tartar (a crusty deposit that causes stains and discolouration).

The survey also showed that girls are better at brushing, with 69% of boys aged 12 saying they brush their teeth at least twice a day compared to 85% of girls.

Among 15-year-olds, 73% of boys and 89% of girls said this.

Sugary drinks were also found to be a cause for concern, with 16% of 12-year-olds saying they drink them at least four times a day, and 14% of 15-year-olds saying this.

The 2013 Children's Dental Health (CDH) Survey is the fifth in a series of national children's dental health surveys that have been carried out every ten years since 1973, focusing on the dental health of five, eight, 12 and 15-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Acting chief dental officer for NHS England Serbjit Kaur said: "These results are very encouraging and are a credit to the dental profession and all those who promote dental health.

"There have been significant reductions in the numbers of 12 and 15-year-olds with obvious decay in their adult teeth.

"Future progress requires further work on prevention and a joined-up approach to dental care and wider health and social care services for children, as set out in the Five Year Forward View."

The survey also found huge discrepancies between countries, with 72% of 15-year-olds having obvious tooth decay in Northern Ireland compared to 44% in England and 63% in Wales.

More than three in five (61%) of 15-year-olds in Northern Ireland had filled teeth while 33% did in England and 52% in Wales.

More than double the amount of 15-year-olds in Northern Ireland had teeth missing due to decay (13%) compared to 6% in England and 11% in Wales.

Dr Sandra White, director of dental public health at Public Health England (PHE), said: "PHE welcomes the overall fall in tooth decay levels and the fact that more and more children are brushing their teeth twice a day and regularly visiting the dentist.

"However, children from low-income families are twice as likely to have tooth decay, which is not only painful but can require hospital treatment and also affects their confidence and self-esteem, so there is no room for complacency.

"Tooth decay is a serious, preventable disease and this survey echoes the need to urgently reduce the amount of sugary snacks and drinks in our children's diets."

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