Toothbrushes are becoming a ‘luxury item’ for some families, a leading doctor warns, describing children’s dental health as a ‘national disgrace’.
Dr Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the cost of living crisis was exacerbating the problem of children with decayed teeth.
Tooth decay is the leading cause of hospital admissions in England among children aged five to nine.
Speaking to The BMJ, she said: “The condition of the children’s teeth … it’s actually a national disgrace.
“The most common reason for a child’s general anesthesia in this country is to clean the teeth.
“It’s a terrible admission of defeat.”
She added: “It reflects your diet and reflects your family’s ability to buy a toothbrush and toothpaste because when you struggle to feed your family it becomes a luxury item.
“This is simple but very visible, alarming evidence of how [the cost of living crisis] affects children’s health.”
Dr Kingdon, who has been a pediatrician in the NHS for almost 30 years, said the use of food banks is now “incredibly common” among the families she sees.
People can’t afford time off work – I can’t remember a time when it often happened that for many consecutive days parents could not visit a sick child in my neonatal ward
dr Kamila Kingdon
On the financial pressures families face, she added: “People can’t afford time off work – I can’t remember a time when we often had multiple consecutive days when parents couldn’t visit my sick baby in my neonatal unit.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Dr Kingdon also highlighted the UK’s poor record of children’s asthma.
“The UK has some of the worst asthma outcomes and some of the highest rates of childhood asthma deaths anywhere in Europe,” she told the Journal.
“Of course it’s complicated, but… we have one of the worst housing stocks in Europe.
“If you have a child who is prone to asthma and you live in a damp apartment where the heating doesn’t work, where you have mold on the walls, where the road you have to walk to school is very polluted, then we know that all these factors affect that this child’s asthma is much more problematic.”
She cited several initiatives the government could put in place to help struggling families, such as expanding free school meals and increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers to keep up with inflation.
She also called on ministers to publish a white paper on tackling health inequalities.
Dr Kingdon added: “I’m not pretending it’s easy.
“Health inequalities are deep-rooted, and addressing them requires many, many different approaches. But we have to start somewhere and there has to be an intention.”