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Tooth decay in 5-year-olds now increasing in some parts of England

15 May 2018

Survey figures published today by Public Health England (PHE) show the state of oral health of 5-year-olds in the North West, Yorkshire and The Humber and the West Midlands has worsened since the last survey in 2014-2015, bucking a previous improving trend. Overall, in 2016-2017, 23.3% of 5-year-olds in England experienced tooth decay, improving from 24.7% in 2014-2015.

More than a third (33.9%) of 5-year-olds in the North West have tooth decay, according to PHE’s data. The proportion of 5-year-olds with tooth decay is also very high in Yorkshire and The Humber, where 30.4% have rotting teeth. In the West Midlands more than a quarter (25.7%) of 5-year-olds are suffering decay. 

The Faculty of Dental Surgery has said that although an overall drop in the percentage of 5-year-olds is welcome and reflects the work that has gone into educating families about oral health in recent years, including through NHS England’s new Starting Well programme, more needs to be done to stop deterioration in the worst affected areas of England. 

Mr Stephen Fayle, Board Member of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at The Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“We are very disappointed the proportion of young children with tooth decay has increased in some areas of England, especially as this deterioration has occurred in parts of the country where decay levels are already high. This growing inequality is despite efforts to educate children, parents and carers.  It is even more concerning when you consider that approximately ninety percent of dental decay is preventable. 

“More work must be done to understand why the message isn’t getting through in these areas, or if it is, why it isn’t leading to the decrease in tooth decay, seen in other parts of the country. With so many children still suffering from decay, we also need to make sure children can easily access NHS dental services, which are free for under-18s.

“We are pleased the overall number of 5-year-olds in England with tooth decay continues to decrease. Many, including the Faculty of Dental Surgery, have worked hard in recent years to make people aware of the awful state of our children’s teeth.

“We can’t let children’s oral health fall off the Government’s agenda. We need to be constantly pushing for public health initiatives that remind families to brush teeth regularly with fluoride toothpaste, reduce sugar consumption and visit the dentist routinely.

“We would also like to see the promising 'Starting Well' initiative rolled out more widely across the country – for example, there are currently no programmes in the West Midlands even though this region has seen a rise in levels of tooth decay.”


Notes to editors

1. Percentage of 5-year-olds with tooth decay: 

   2007-08 2011-12   2014-15  2016-17
 England  30.9%  27.9%  24.7%  23.3%
 North East   39.8%   29.7%  28.0%  23.9%
 North West  38.1%   34.8%   33.4%  33.9%
Yorkshire and The Humber  38.7%   33.6%  28.5%  30.4%
 East Midlands   30.8%   29.8%  27.5%  25.1%
 West Midlands   28.9%   26.0%   23.4%   25.7%
 East of England  24.8%   23.0%  20.2%   18.0%
 London  32.7%   32.9%  27.2%   25.7%
 South East   26.2%   21.2%  20.0%  16.4%
 South West   30.6%   26.1%  21.5%  20.2%

2. The full results of the oral health survey of 5-year-old children 2017 published by Public Health England are available here:

3. The Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England is committed to enabling dentists and specialists to provide patients with the highest possible standards of practice and care.

4. Last year NHS England launched a new Starting Well programme which aims to improve children’s oral health in 13 local authorities: Blackburn with Darwen; Blackpool; Bolton; Ealing; Kingston upon Hull; Leicester; Luton; Middlesbrough; Oldham; Rochdale; Salford; Slough; and Wakefield.

5. For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office: Telephone: 020 7869 604; Email:; For out of hours media enquiries: 07966 486832. 


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