NHS watchdog asks for children to brush their teeth at school


The government has been criticised for becoming a ‘supernanny’ and this is evident by official guidance stipulating that schools should help children brush their teeth at the start and end of each day.

The advice for local authorities has been drafted by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) as they state that many parents are unaware that their children’s teeth require brushing.

The new proposals will ask schools to run daily sessions where children aged between three and 11 will be physically helped to brush their teeth two times each day.

Pupils will be provided with free fluoride toothpaste and toothbrushes which can be taken home in a bid to help prevent children from being ‘condemned to a life with rotten teeth’, according to Nice.

According to health officials, these are necessary plans as too many parents did not realise that their children’s teeth required brushing, and others seem to assume that it is a ‘trivial’ task.

Patient groups, such as Patient Concern, have condemned the plans as being ‘simply daft’ and would encourage parents to think that basic child-rearing skills should be the responsibility of the state.

Patient Concern’s Joyce Robins said that Nice has been accused previously of promoting nanny state measure, but this issue appears to be more like a ‘supernanny state’. She wanted to know what they would suggest next. Would it be that parents are allowed to drop their children off at school unwashed and naked and the state should do the rest?

The advice from Nice for local authorities stipulates that areas where children are at higher risk of poor oral health should consider the implementation of the measures first. However, officials have stated that the ideal would be for all schools to introduce the twice daily brushing regime for all children at nursery and primary school.

The foundation dean for the Peninsula Dental School in Plymouth and one of the authors of the Nice guidance, Professor Elizabeth Kay, said it would be fantastic if every school implemented this system, but the areas where it is most needed are those where disease is more prevalent.

She said the ideal would be for it to be done twice a day, but brushing with fluoride toothpaste once a day would make a difference.

Officials insist that the advice is not intended to take away the responsibilities of parents, but is an attempt to prevent cases where children’s teeth may be neglected.

Professor Kay stated that she has spoken to a teenage mother who was completely shocked that her child’s teeth should be brushed, and these are the families which should be targeted.

She said her concern was the ‘growing polarisation’ within society, with the worse dental health being experienced in deprived regions.

According to a public health specialist involved in the guidelines, Mandy Murdoch, the ‘captive audience’ in nurseries and schools is what they intend to take advantage of.

Nice stated that their recommendations did not imply that teachers should devote lesson time to this activity. They stated that teaching assistants could undertake the task and turn it into a fun group activity.

According to Professor Kay, about 25000 young children are admitted to hospital for tooth extractions every year. She said that since it is known how to prevent dental disease, this is unacceptable. She added that if there was a preventable medical condition which caused thousands of mostly five-year-olds to end up in hospital to have parts of their bodies removed, there would be a massive outcry.

The director of the centre for public health at Nice, Professor Mike Kelly, said many children have poor mouth hygiene and poor diets because the importance of taking care of children’s milk teeth and gums is misunderstood.

He said they consume too much sugar and fail to clean their teeth with fluoride toothpaste, and as a society their carers and parents should be offered help to provide these children with the best start in life.

Image Credit: Steven Depolo


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