Tooth decay in children could be an indicator of a much larger problem in the home.
Researchers at King’s College Hospital say that it could be a major alarm bell, indicating that the child is being neglected.
Their study revealed 40% of children in need of dental or maxillofacial surgery are already registered with or known to social services.
Researchers say that this link between dental decay and neglect is undeniable.
The college studied patient data of children admitted with dental or maxillofacial infections between 2015 to 2017.
Study co-author Kathy Fan said that over half of the children they cared for “were aged between five and eight”, indicating this age group is at greatest risk of harm.
“Sadly, by the time we treated the children they would already have suffered a sustained period of oral neglect, and probably been in pain,” she said.
According to NHS digital, the number of hospital admissions for tooth decay in this age group rose to 26,000 last year.
As a result, King’s College Hospital have implemented a new policy in their A&E unit: any children admitted with dental infections will be assessed for neglect and sent on to a safeguarding team if required.
And they are calling on GPs around the country to follow their example.
“Where patients or carers repeatedly fail to access dental treatment for a child’s tooth decay or leave dental pain untreated, alarm bells should ring for clinicians to consider neglect,” said Marielle Kabban, consultant paediatric dentist.
“Awareness and confidence to escalate concerns as well as educate non-dental healthcare workers is essential to recognise dental neglect early and arrange treatment.”
Tooth decay was the main reason children between the ages of five and nine were sent to hospital in England, according to The Independent.
Researchers hope that their recent findings will prompt fellow GPs to follow up on dental infection patients and raise awareness for the link between dental health and children subject to neglect.