Local authority leaders have called for more investment in oral health education as research reveals the use of A&E for oral pain is costing the NHS £2.3m a year.
Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have found a large proportion of parents are taking their children to pharmacies and hospitals — rather than dentists — to treat oral pain.
More than half the pharmacies in London collected information from 6,915 parents seeking pain medications for their children in November 2016 — January 2017.
The results, published in BMJ Open, revealed nearly two-thirds (65%) of parents seeking pain medications for their children were doing so to relieve their children’s oral pain.
Only 30% of children with oral pain had seen a dentist before the pharmacy visit while 28% had seen between one and four different health professionals.
Nearly one in 10 children, the study discovered, had signs and symptoms indicating a dental emergency and community pharmacy staff signposted them to emergency services.
The researchers calculated this costs the NHS £373,288 annually which, when replicated across all the pharmacies in England, adds up to £2.3m.
‘The fact that only 30% of children with oral pain had seen a dentist before going to a pharmacy highlights a concerning underuse of dental services,’ said the lead researcher Dr Vanessa Muirhead.
‘Children with oral pain need to see a dentist for a definitive diagnosis and to treat any tooth decay. Not treating a decayed tooth can result in more pain, abscesses and possible damage to children’s permanent teeth.
‘These children had not only failed to see a dentist before their pharmacy visit; they had seen GPs and a range of other health professionals outside dentistry.
‘This inappropriate and overuse of multiple health services including A&E is costing the NHS a substantial amount of money at a time when reducing waste is a government priority.’
Responding to the findings, Cllr Linda Thomas, vice-chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: ‘This report adds further weight to the need for urgent investment in oral health education so that parents and children understand the impact of sugar on teeth and the importance of good oral hygiene.
‘As LGA analysis revealed earlier this year, there are 170 operations a day taking place in hospitals to remove teeth in children and teenagers.
‘Untreated dental care remains one of the most prevalent diseases affecting children and young people’s ability to speak, eat, play and socialise.
‘This study underlines how regular check-ups at a dentist can help prevent tooth decay and the need for hospital treatment.’