Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care Board to offer funding for dentists to teach schoolchildren about dental hygiene
Health bosses are taking emergency action to tackle a dental crisis in children.
The Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care Board are offering up to £20,000 of funding for the next six months for dentists to visit schools and teach children about how to keep their teeth healthy.
It follows a damning report earlier this year which found Norfolk’s five-year-olds have the worst rates of tooth decay in the East of England – with the Lynn and West Norfolk area among the worst affected in the country.
Under the initiative, dentists will be able to work with schools to offer advice to young people for how to brush their teeth properly and offer other oral health advice.
West Norfolk councillor Alexandra Kemp, who has been campaigning for improvements to dentistry in the region, said: “This is great news as there is a huge need for this to be taught in schools.
“We have to get a grip on this problem and children’s dental health needs to be prioritised.”
A lack of NHS dentists in the county has been a longstanding problem, making it difficult for parents to take their children to see health experts.
According to Ms Kemp, the cost of living crisis has also meant more and more parents are asking food banks for toothpaste and toothbrushes for children in Lynn – one of the areas with the worst rate of tooth decay in the county.
She said she has given £300 of her councillor allowance to Lynn’s social supermarket Purfleet Pantry to purchase and distribute free children’s toothpaste and toothbrushes to parents.
A spokesman for NHS Norfolk and Waveney said: “Improving children and young people’s oral health is an important consideration with our recently published short-term dental plan, and will be a key priority in the ICB’s longer-term strategy to improve patient access to dental services and improve oral health outcomes for our local population.”
It comes after councillors have called for action to tackle high rates of tooth decay in children.
Members of West Norfolk Council are calling for the authority to lobby the government to reform how NHS dentist contracts are managed.
It is also hoped it can pressure ministers to secure funding to improve the state of dental care in the region through the creation of a dental training school.
Councillor Jo Rust, cabinet member for people and communities, will propose the motion at a full council meeting tomorrow.
“This council notes the dire situation with NHS dentistry in Lynn and West Norfolk,” said Ms Rust.
“The number of dentists has declined at a greater rate in West Norfolk when compared to the whole of the east and England.
“Yet our area has greater levels of need, more areas of deprivation and a higher number of older residents.
“While the provision of dental services sits with the Integrated Care Board and isn’t one that our borough council can control, we can seek to influence and shape the delivery of improved services and improved access to NHS dentists for our local community.”
The survey by health bosses in the region found that nearly one in every four five-year-olds had some form of decay in their teeth.
Cllr Kemp has been campaigning for better dental care in West Norfolk and has called for more intervention in schools.
She said: “Tooth decay is really serious and causes misery.
“Lots of families have told me they can’t get their children registered with an NHS dentist.
“Some can’t afford toothpaste and toothbrushes. We need to get basic prevention right and teaching dental care in schools is one way to improve dental outcomes for children in West Norfolk.”
NHS Norfolk and Waveney has said access to NHS dental services is one of its “immediate concerns” and that the body will continue to work closely with dental providers to find ways to stabilise and improve access to services.
A spokeswoman added: “The ICB is committed to ensuring that all patients within Norfolk and Waveney can have access to high-quality dental services, but recognise that sustainable, long-term change will take time to achieve.”