Editor's Viewpoint: Rotten oral health strategy needs fixed
The report on the state of children's oral health in Northern Ireland is shocking enough to wipe the smile of anyone's face. According to the British Dental Association the province languishes at the bottom of the UK's league table when it comes to the care of children's teeth.
No matter how the statistics are looked at they show a distressing picture. While around 25% of children aged five in England show signs of tooth decay, the comparable figure in Northern Ireland is a shocking 40%.
Not only do more of our children suffer tooth decay but it is of greater severity leading to extractions of both baby and adult teeth.
Teeth if properly looked after will last a lifetime, but instead of our children getting the best possible start in life it appears they are simply storing up trouble for adulthood as far as oral health is concerned.
The cause of rotten teeth is obvious - a sugar epidemic in the words of the chair of the BDA Council in Northern Ireland.
Sugar, particularly from drinks and sweets, has long been recognised as a problem for children's oral health leading to a sugar levy in the UK and appeals to manufacturers of drinks to cut down on the amount of sugar used.
It appears that the warnings are not getting through to enough people here. Parents must realise the harm they are doing to their children by allowing them too much sugar. While it is important that those who make sugary drinks or sweets are encouraged to cut back on this ingredient, the primary responsibility for what young children eat begins in the home.
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There needs to be a renewed education programme warning parents of the harm being done to children and also how they can be protect their teeth. Children should be encouraged to brush teeth regularly and this practice cannot begin too soon.
It is worrying that no additional money was allocated to child public health initiatives in spite of £12.3m coming to Northern Ireland from the sugar levy last year.
What was that money used for and why was at least some of it not allocated to what is an obvious child health problem? This is another example of the effect of the lack of local political responsibility.
The current oral health strategy is now 12 years old and there is a very evident need to update it. But we have no administration to do so. A really rotten state of affairs.