An intensive oral health programme aimed at children in Ireland should be rolled out nationally as soon as possible, a dental expert has said.
According to Dr Brett Duane, associate professor in dental public health at Dublin Dental University Hospital, the introduction of a similar initiative in Scotland has reduced the prevalence of tooth decay there by almost one-third since it began in 2007.
One of the key parts of the Scottish programme is an early dental visit - either at 12 months of age or within six months of the first tooth erupting.
"There are a lot of sound health reasons for opting for an early visit, but a lot of parents don't realise it's actually cost effective. If the child's first dental visit takes place at four or five years, you are going to end up paying more in the long run," Dr Duane commented.
He explained that US research suggests that parents who bring their children to the dentist for the first time at four or five ‘end up paying twice as much as those who went in their first year'.
"So the earlier you go, the less you pay. Of course the child and the parents also pick up good dental habits from an early age, while any nervousness or anxiety is removed from the equation in the vast majority of cases," he noted.
Dr Duane made his comments at the recent Irish Dental Association's annual seminar for HSE dentists. He told those attending that he had seen first hand the effectiveness of the Scottish programme when he worked in Scotland.
"Within the community, all children receive free toothbrushes at various stages before school, with all four year olds attending nursery school receiving tooth brushing as part of the nursery programme.
"In areas of higher risk of dental disease, children receive both fluoride varnish programmes and tooth brushing programmes in the first few years of primary school," he explained.
Fluoride varnish provides extra protection against tooth decay when used in addition to brushing. It is a pale yellow gel that sets quickly when applied to children's teeth using a soft brush. The Scottish programme recommends that it should be applied to all children's teeth twice a year.
Dr Duane pointed out that the Scottish government provides additional payments to dental practices taking part in this programme, including a payment for fluoride varnish to high-risk children.
"While a similar model - Happy Teeth - was trialled for a time in parts of Cork city, there has been no follow on at national level. At the same time, our school screening programme is simply not functioning in very many areas. We have a template in the Scottish programme, we just need the will to introduce it here," Dr Duane added.
The Irish Dental Association's annual seminar for HSE dentists was held in Kilkenny.