Farron: Children are missing school to go abroad for dental treatment

We all know that NHS dental appointments can be almost impossible to access in many areas of the country.

Liberal Democrats have been highlighting this for months and calling on the Government to do more to ensure people can access this key service.

Yesterday, Tim Farron spoke in an opposition day debate on dental services and said that he had been told that some children were missing school to go abroad for dental appointments because they couldn’t get them locally:

I have heard at first hand from my constituents about the shocking scale of the difficulty of getting access to appointments for children. One attendance officer at one of our primary schools wrote to me earlier last year after she found that families in her school were going abroad for dental appointments. She said:

“Tim, I felt compelled to email you to tell you… We have a high number of children who are regularly missing out on education due to being unable to register with a local NHS dentist. A large number of our children have Polish, Romanian, Latvian and Ukrainian parents and therefore will find it easier to travel back to their parents’ original home country rather than wait for a local NHS dentist who is accepting patients.”

Wow! Let us be clear: she is saying that some children in Cumbria find it easier to get dental treatment travelling to a war zone than to access the NHS dental care that their parents have already paid for through their taxes.

He also highlighted that tooth decay was the number 1 reason for paediatric hospital admissions on his path. That is so shocking. The implications of poor dental health in childhood can last for a lifetime. Tooth decay is preventable and manageable. Free access to a dentist should be a right for children.

Tim said:

In 2022, the BDA found that one in four five-year-olds in my community in Cumbria had tooth decay, and that tooth decay was the No. 1 reason for hospital admissions among young people. Regular dental appointments are vital for preventing tooth decay, and even more so for children, whose teeth tend to decay more quickly. However, fewer and fewer children are able to access those Toggle showing location ofColumn 195appointments because of the negligence of this Government. In Cumbria, the proportion of children seen by a dentist in the NHS each year went from 64% in 2018 to just 50% last year, a drop of 14% in five years. Half of our children in our communities—from Grasmere to Grange, Appleby to Ambleside, Kendal to Kirkby Stephen and Windermere to Warcop—do not have access to an NHS dentist. That is a disgrace.

The situation was worse for adults, with a structural problem in that the NHS Trust only receive half the money it needs to provide services for everyone who needs them.

Regular dental checks are so important as they can pick up conditions like oral cancers and prevent tooth and gum issues potentially leading to heart problems.

Liberal Democrats have a plan to widen access to NHS dentistry, doing the following:

Reforming and increasing funding for the NHS dental services contract, to ensure it:

Encourages and incentivises dentists to take on NHS patients,
Meets patient need and demand rather than arbitrary targets,
Puts an end to ‘dental deserts’.
Increasing the number of dentist training places in the UK and continued recognition of EU trained dentists’ qualifications.
Writing into law proper workforce planning for health and social care, including projections for dentists and dental staff.
Launching an emergency scheme to ensure children, pregnant women and young mothers have access to their free check ups on time.
Supervised tooth brushing training for children in early years settings, such as nurseries.
Removing VAT on children’s toothbrushes and children’s toothpaste.

This Government has accelerated the constant running down of dental services that has been going on for the past two decades. It is disgraceful that such a vital element of health care is simply not there unless you can afford it.

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  • Thomas Fowler 10th Jan '24 - 1:03pm

    60 billion is the yearly cost, roughly a grand per person so get rid of the NHS dental system, the dentists going private, and give everyone £1000 credit to spend wherever they like each year – competition amongst dentists will drive prices down from absurd levels at the moment, Whether it should be transferable between family members and/or rolled over if not used I leave for others to ponder.

  • Steve Trevethan 10th Jan '24 - 1:44pm

    Might there be relevant similarities between a privatised dental set up and the privatised water and sewage set up, apart from our needing dental care and water?

  • Martin Gray 10th Jan '24 - 2:21pm

    If you can afford to travel and book an hotel abroad – then you can meet the cost of a private dentist for most basic work. Dental hygiene for children is the responsibility of parents , & sure start done a considerable amount of work on this, before many centres were closed down .

  • @Martin Gray: The article seems to indicate that the people travelling abroad are mainly immigrants visiting a dentist in their home country. I would infer from that that they may be incorporating a dentist visit into trips they’d want to make anyway to visit family etc.

    Agree with you about parental responsibility: The main cause of tooth decay is after all, eating too many sugary foods and not cleaning your teeth properly. That doesn’t of course change that the UK has a huge problem with availability of dentists, which we urgently need to fix, but it’s a little disappointing that parental responsibility isn’t mentioned at all in an article about children’s dental health. I think often we focus too much on demanding that the Government fix everything, while forgetting that it’s also up to individual people to act responsibly.

  • Helen Dudden 11th Jan '24 - 11:28am

    There is a real lack of accessible dentists. I spent nearly all my savings on urgent dental treatment. 4 broken teeth and a small metal bar to make things more stable.

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