Dental caries and obesity must be tackled together, says BSPD

Dental caries and obesity must be tackled together, says BSPD

The British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD), the organisation committed to improving the oral health of children in the UK, is calling for more co-ordinated steps to tackle both dental decay and obesity to stop thousands of children growing up to face a lifetime of disadvantage. The BSPD wants to see clearer food labelling and further sugar reduction in food and drinks frequently consumed by children.

The BSPD has published a position statement on obesity and dental caries which includes a new analysis from Public Health England (PHE) showing that children who are underweight, overweight or very overweight are more likely to have experienced dental decay than those of a healthy weight. New research on sugar consumption is also included: current figures suggest children and young people consume up to three times more sugar than the recommended levels.

The statement highlights that the children who are suffering most with dental caries and obesity are from the most deprived areas, making the conditions symptomatic of widening health inequalities. Children from deprived areas of the UK are twice as likely to be obese.

The British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD) wants to see clearer food labelling and further sugar reduction in food and drinks frequently consumed by children. It supports:

  • · healthy lifestyle campaigns such as those led by Change4Life in England and Wales and the ‘Eat Better, Feel Better’ initiative in Scotland
  • · measures designed to half the prevalence of childhood obesity by 2030, such as the soft drinks sugar levy and restrictions on the advertisement of unhealthy, food and drink, especially high sugar products.

We also call for:

  • · co-ordinated and multi-agency approaches to the management of obesity and dental decay
  • · an extension of the free school meal scheme to cover holiday periods for those most in need.
    Originally published in 2015, the updated 2020 position statement includes new statistics and research. Dental caries: The latest data from surveys of five year olds shows:
  • · In England 23% had dental decay (2019), while 12% of three-year-old children already have visible dental decay
  • · In Scotland, 26.5% of five-year-old children have obvious dental decay (2020)
  • · In Northern Ireland, 40% had obvious decay (2013)
  • · In Wales, 41% had visibly untreated decay (2013)

Diet is critical to both conditions. Low nutrition foods, high in sugars and saturated fats and low in fruit and vegetables, are a main contributory factor for obesity. Currently, obesity and dental decay are tackled independently by different arms of the NHS. BSPD believes there needs to be a greater willingness for all agencies to work innovatively together.

One example of effective collaboration is the practice of children being weighed at hospital dental appointments. At Edinburgh Dental Institute, paediatric specialist trainee Jessica Large – the lead author of the position statement - introduced screening of body mass index (BMI) for children attending new patient appointments.  She identified that 14% were above a healthy weight; they were offered onward referral to ’Get Going’ -  a local weight management service.

Claire Stevens, spokesperson for BSPD, said: “We need to change the way we think about oral health, starting with a more holistic way of looking at children’s needs.”

“Our updated position statement shows that the most vulnerable in our society are most at risk of a lifetime of poor health arising from poor nutrition, affecting both their oral health and their weight.”

“In our clinics, our members see children who are obese at one end of the spectrum or underweight at the other. A poor diet is the unifying factor between their dental health and their weight. Children who have poor dental health and are obese are likely to experience a lifetime of disadvantage.”

The position statement also highlights that there are doubts about the affordability of the Eatwell Guide. The food budget of over half of UK households is likely to be insufficient to meet the Guide’s recommendations, potentially increasing the risk of excess weight and dental decay.

Finally, there is increasing evidence that excess weight is associated with an increased COVID-19 risk. A report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by the All-Party Group for a Fit and Healthy Childhood (2020) highlights how COVID-19 has placed further strain on inequalities, including food security and availability.

BSPD is keen to work within a healthcare system in which:

  • · All clinicians have a responsibility towards the overall wellbeing of their patients.
  • · Collaborative patient care is supported and encouraged.
  • · Referral is made (where appropriate) to the provider or specialist with the optimum training and skills for diagnosis and treatment.

BSPD position statement:


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