Monday’s Irish News is expected to lead shocking statistics about variations in childhood dental health, including details of greater numbers of teeth falling out from children attending CCMS primary schools than those in the state sector. The leaked draft is believed to be an early version of the final report which is due to be shared with Assembly members of the Health committee on Monday morning, and will be followed by a statement to the full Assembly by the Health Minister Edwin Poots.
Compared with other regions, Northern Ireland is the tooth decay capital of the UK and Ireland. The report is expected to confirm the findings of an earlier 2002 Children’s Oral Health in NI report which highlighted that “the average number of missing, filled or decayed teeth is far higher among children from low-income households than for other children”.
Other research has already shown that “children living within the 20% most deprived wards in Northern Ireland are almost twice as likely (47%) to have experienced dental decay as children from the 20% most affluent wards (25%)”.
However, the Irish News will reveal a previously undiscovered anomaly in childhood dental decay. The leaked report states that considerably more Catholic primary school children are losing teeth than numbers of Protestant counterparts.
Reacting to the leaked report, Sue Ramsey – Sinn Féin chair of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee – is calling for urgent action by the minister to address this issue of inequality. She criticised department officials who she said had suppressed this data and not revealed the full facts when they briefed the committee about oral hygiene last April.
In a rare show of cross-party solidarity, the West Belfast MLA was joined by UUP MLA for Lagan Valley Basil McCrea who called for the immediate resignation of Edwin Poots, saying that Protestant teeth had as much right to fall out as Catholic ones.
Alliance health spokesperson Kieran McCarthy said he agreed in principle with the need to address dental health issues more seriously. However, he distanced himself from some of his fellow MLAs’ remarks, saying that it was time that the unionist and nationalist parties “rinsed their mouths” and “took the religion out of teeth”. “Besides”, he added, “even the dogs on the street know that most decayed teeth are coloured yellow”.
Together the three MLAs appealing for the Executive to eliminate tooth decay and the causes of tooth decay through a panel of experts in a ‘Tooth Commission’.
The (acting) Chief Dental Officer – Mr Donncha O’Carolan – refused to be drawn on the alleged gaps in the mouths of children, but concentrated on the wider issues:
The oral health of Northern Ireland’s population is the worst in the United Kingdom and this has been the case for many years. Over the decades the oral health of our society has improved but the gains we have experienced have been much less than those seen by our neighbours.
The Republic of Ireland, which once had worse children’s dental health than Northern Ireland now, thanks to water fluoridation, boasts the lowest tooth decay levels in Europe.