21/09/2004

Minister drills home tooth decay problem

Health Minister Angela Smith has launched a consultation document aimed at improving the state of people's teeth in Northern Ireland.

The Oral Health Strategy is a 10-year plan which aims to improve the oral health of the entire population and reduce inequalities. Specific recommendations are made on tackling the higher disease levels found among the poor, older people, ethnic minorities, travellers and homeless people. Proposals are also made on access to dental care for children and adults with disabilities.

Highlighting the scale of the problem in Northern Ireland, the Minister said: “Tooth decay levels among Northern Ireland children are approximately double those in England and the Republic of Ireland. This completely preventable disease is the most common reason for children receiving hospital general anaesthetics. Last year, in Northern Ireland, almost 8,000 children, some as young as 2-years-old, had a general anaesthetic for dental treatment.

“If we are to close the oral health gap between Northern Ireland and our neighbours then dental services must focus more on prevention. There also needs to be greater interdisciplinary working within the health service and more partnership working between the health, education, community and voluntary sectors. The benefits of these approaches will extend beyond oral health into general health and well-being.”

The new Oral Health Strategy replaces the 1995 Oral Health Strategy and sets the context for the forthcoming Primary Care Dental Strategy.

The cost of providing Health Service dentistry in Northern Ireland last year was approximately £80 million.

(MB/GMCG)

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