Huge disparity between parents’ perception of children’s dental health and the reality, new figures suggest

A vast disparity between UK parents’ perceptions of their children’s dental health compared to the reality has been highlighted by the results of a new survey.

The poll, conducted by dental negligence specialists Graham Coffey & Co. Solicitors revealed that parents believe 95% of children have ‘excellent’, ‘very good’ or ‘good’ dental health, despite government data showing that only 58% visited a dentist in the last 12 months.

The survey, which questioned more than 1,500 people, uncovers a stark difference between what parents believe to be true about their children’s dental health and statistics released by NHS Digital in September 2019, which revealed that tooth decay is the leading reason for hospital admissions among five to nine-year-olds in the UK.

According to the data, 25,702 children were admitted to hospital in 2018-19 because of tooth decay, which was more than double admissions for acute tonsillitis. Furthermore, figures from the NHS revealed that 42% of children did not attend an appointment with an NHS dentist in 2019.

Stuart Snape, Managing Partner and Head of Dental Negligence Claims at Graham Coffey & Co. Solicitors says: “Parents’ perceptions of the dental health of their children are much more positive than they should be, with official data pointing to an ongoing increase in the number of children who are suffering from issues such as tooth decay.

“It is extremely worrying to see that our survey respondents had such an optimistic view of the dental health of their children, as it suggests that bad habits and problems could be going unnoticed without the appropriate medical attention.”

NHS Digital data shows that the number of hospital admissions for tooth decay have risen among several age groups. Admissions increased for 10-14-year-olds (from 7,060 to 7,410), 15 year olds (from 783 to 848), 16 year olds (715 to 759), 17 year olds (629 and 640) and 18 year olds (549 to 557).

Data collected by Graham Coffey & Co. Solicitors also highlighted that only 32% of adults feel no anxiety about going to the dentist. According to the survey, 32% feel little anxiety, while 21% experience moderate anxiety and 15% feel extreme anxiety.

Stuart Snape says that this anxiety could be the reason that parents are less likely to instil good habits around attending the dentist in their children.

He said: “Having good dental hygiene from an early age can prove invaluable for teaching youngsters good habits for life. It is the responsibility of parents to instil this in their children from the get go, and part of this is visiting the dentist every six months as well as practicing good dental hygiene at home.

“However, if parents themselves have anxiety about going to the dentist, it could make them more likely to project those fears on to their children. It is vital that parents know that just because it may not be immediately obvious that their child has a dental health problem, it does not mean that one is not lurking or that they do not need to take their dental health seriously.”