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Scotland's Wealth Gap in Children's Dental Health at 16.1%

The gap in oral health between the richest and poorest children in Scotland stands at 16.1%, new figures show.

Statistics released by Public Health Scotland on Tuesday show the proportion of children in primary seven from the least affluent 20% of areas in Scotland with no obvious tooth decay in 2023 was at 71.9%.

The proportion for children in the wealthiest areas was at 88% – a difference of 16.1 points.

The gap, however, has fallen from 2009, when it was 26.3 points – with 49.9% of children showing no obvious signs of tooth decay.

Overall, the proportion of children showing no obvious signs of decay increased from 53% in 2005 to 82% this year.

Oral Health Inequalities Continue to Present a Challenge

Despite the fall in the gap, public health minister Jenni Minto said inequalities "continue to present a challenge".

"Today's figures on the oral health of primary seven schoolchildren show that 82% of P7 children have no obvious decay, compared with 53% in 2005.

"That is hugely welcoming, especially given the disruption to dental care due to infection prevention and control guidance that was needed to protect staff and patients at the height of the pandemic.

"While we recognise oral health inequalities in children continue to present a challenge, we have seen a narrowing in child oral health inequality, with the difference in the percentage of children with no obvious decay in the most and least deprived areas decreasing from 26.3 percentage points in 2009 to 16.1 percentage points in 2023.

"This shows the success of our flagship Childsmile programme, where nursery and schoolchildren receive regular tooth brushing instruction and fluoride varnish application.

"Given the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, these statistics are a significant achievement."

David McColl, chair of the British Dental Association's Scottish dental practice committee, said the Scottish Government must not declare it is "mission accomplished".

"Our children are paying the price for the crisis in NHS dentistry hard won gains are going into reverse," he said. "Certainly, there is no room complacency at Holyrood, as the oral health gap between rich and poor shows little sign of closing.

"It remains to be seen if coming reforms will be enough to bring this service back from the brink. The Scottish Government cannot pretend it is 'mission accomplished' for NHS dentistry."

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