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Dental screening

Government policy on dental screening in schools has changed significantly following research by The University of Manchester.

Resources are being re-allocated to frontline dental services for children who need them most as a result of the study into the National Screening programme, which cost an estimated £17 million a year, according to Department of Health figures in 2010.

The research was carried out between 1999 and 2008 by a team led by Martin Tickle, Professor of Dental Public Health and Primary Care.

The initial trial involved 17,500 children, testing different models of screening in an area of high need in the north-west of England.

The study was the first to evaluate the effectiveness of school dental screening programmes since they were set up in 1918.

It looked at the impact of screening on general dental health and the use of local dental services in an area where access to NHS dental care was freely available.

Research showed the programme was not only ineffective with little impact on dental attendance, but was also likely to increase inequalities.

It showed children from affluent areas had the least amount of tooth decay, while those from the most deprived had the most. Children from the poorest areas were also least likely to complete courses of dental treatment.

The University of Manchester team then carried out a national survey of all dental screening programmes in England and Wales to assess if their conclusions matched the effectiveness of the national screening programme.

Results showed the findings were likely to be representative of the performance of the programme across the country.

As a result, the Department of Health recommended resources be re-directed towards initiatives targeting the most vulnerable groups, including children with disabilities and special learning needs.

School-based prevention programmes have included supervised tooth-brushing, the promotion of fluoride toothpaste, and advice and information for parents.

“Our research showed the programme was not only ineffective with little impact on dental attendance, but also likely to increase inequalities.”

Martin Tickle / Professor of Dental Public Health and Primary Care