Dentists have called on the next Assembly government to tackle the oral health epidemic in Wales, with calls to cut NHS dental charges and use the proceeds of the new sugar levy invest in preventive care for children in disadvantaged communities.

In a five-point plan for better oral health, the the British Dental Association Wales (BDA Wales) has outlined how the next government could turn around the nation’s poor history on oral health. The last Child Dental Health Survey revealed 66 per cent of Welsh 15-year-olds have decay, compared with just 41 per cent in England.

Welsh officials recently took a different approach to NHS England, and froze dental charges for 2016. However, data from the Adult Dental Health Survey shows nearly 400,000 people in Wales have delayed or avoided dental treatment because of costs. The BDA is now calling for the Assembly to go a step further and make these charges genuinely affordable for lower income families who don’t currently qualify for help.

Dentists said the next government should also use its autonomy by spending a portion of the proceeds from the new sugar levy to fund expansion of the Designed to Smile initiative to all nurseries in areas of high deprivation. Supervised brushing and fluoride varnish programmes have already contributed to a 12 per cent reduction in decay among under-fives since 2008, according to research by Cardiff University.

A recent survey has shown that government targets are hampering Welsh NHS dentists, with 92 per cent, saying it is holding them back from preventive work. BDA Wales is also calling on the next Welsh government to press ahead on building on recent pilots for a new NHS contract system based on prevention.

Katrina Clarke, Chair of the BDA Wales General Dental Practice Committee, said, ‘A child born in Wales is 25 per cent more likely to end up with decay than one born on the other side of the border. We have seen pioneering programmes, but the next Welsh government will have to go the extra mile to turn this around.

‘Nearly 400,000 people in Wales have avoided or delayed necessary treatment because of costs. Government has already frozen NHS dental charges – now it’s time to make them affordable. Storing up conditions is bad for patients and for the taxpayer, because prevention isn’t just better than cure – it’s cheaper too.

‘“New Assembly Members must ensure this sugar levy is a real opportunity for Welsh children. A modest slice of that funding could expand the successful Designed to Smile programme to all nurseries in areas of high deprivation. This small investment would give children the best start in life; it would help set habits that will take a huge strain off the health service.

‘It’s time to make all the talk on prevention a reality. Let’s invest in children, move on from a failed NHS contract that’s failed patients, and ensure Wales is training and keeping the dentists we need.’