Specialists at King’s College Hospital are appealing for parents and teachers to look out for signs of severe dental decay – and make sure the child is urgently by a dentist.
They say the most common reason children are admitted to hospital for a general anaesthetic is to extract rotten teeth.
In some cases the decay has led to infection so severe that the infection needs to be drained of pus.
As the News has reported, shockingly, 27 children seen from 2015-17 needed surgery, under anaesthetic in hospital due to tooth decay and infection so extreme they faced potentially ‘life-threatening complications’.
Forty per cent of them were already known to social services – showing how in some cases, extreme and long-term tooth decay can indicate wider neglect, or problems at home.
Untreated tooth decay can cause pus-filled abscesses. The infection can spread up into the sinuses and brain and downwards towards the airway.
Dangerous swelling can then lead to breathing problems as the airways in the nose and throat start to narrow.
The report’s authors, Kathy Fan and Marielle Kabban, say they hope their research raises awareness among health workers and teachers for the signs to look out for, and will help safeguarding teams get involved in cases which might indicate child neglect.
King’s is a leader in this field, and has already set up a new ‘care pathway’ for treating children who arrive in A&E with severe infections.
Some have never been to the dentist – despite dental care for children being free of charge.
The specialists also want parents to not be afraid of coming forward with problems, saying some children are more prone to these types of infections – perhaps due to being diabetic or other conditions which can compromise their immune systems.
Dr Fan went on to explain: “We know parents can have difficult, busy lives, with some parents working multiple jobs and having other children to care for.
“We don’t want parents to be concerned about getting their child seen. The sooner parents seek dental care for their child, the better.
“We want to support families that are struggling to get the help they need.”
They are keen to highlight that where referrals to social services are made, it is with the aim of helping families under pressure.
It is hoped that research into similar cases nationwide could identify children who are at risk of neglect and get care earlier.
Dr Kabban said: “We are talking about children who may have suffered toothache on a regular basis for some time.
“These children sometimes report experiencing toothache for months or even years, making it difficult for them to eat and leading to disturbed sleep.”
“Some of these children need not just baby teeth removed but also adult teeth extracted, and would have been in a lot of pain beforehand.
“The paediatric dental service at King’s will accept referrals from dentists, other healthcare providers and teachers who may be worried about a child suffering dental neglect.
“But the first point of contact for families should be with routine appointments at their family dentist”
Four Steps to Healthy Teeth
- Drink only plain water or plain milk from a cup between meals
- Keep sugary foods / drinks to a minimum and to mealtimes only
- Brush your teeth in the morning and at night for two minutes each time with fluoride toothpaste. Split the toothpaste out but do not rinse
- Visit your family dentist regularly