Labour faces backlash over plans for supervised toothbrushing in schools in bid to fix problems in NHS dentistry
- Labour want teachers in areas with high tooth decay supervise brushing
- Brushing would be supervised for children aged between three and five
- Critics say that measures are an improper use of teachers’ time
Labour was accused of failing teachers last night after unveiling plans for supervised toothbrushing in schools as part of its policy to solve the problems in NHS dentistry.
Sir Keir Starmer’s plans – set to cost £111million annually – would mean that teachers in areas with high tooth decay would need to supervise the morning dental care for pupils aged three to five.
But critics suggested the measures were an improper use of time for teachers, many of whom are already considering leaving the profession due to burnout and high workloads. Ministers also suggested the plans were unfunded and required more government borrowing.
The chief of the National Association of Headteachers last night told Sir Keir it was not the role of teachers to supervise dental care. General secretary Paul Whiteman said: ‘This week we have seen guidance on mobile phones from Government and a new dentistry duty from the Opposition.
‘This is not the response needed to solve the crises in school. We have serious reservations about how such a policy could work. It is not the role of teachers to be making sure children brush their teeth each day. We should demand more than window dressing from all of our politicians.’ The policy is aimed at alleviating the pressure on dentists in the long term.
Sir Keir Starmer’s plans would mean that teachers in areas with high tooth decay would need to supervise the morning dental care for pupils aged three to five
Critics suggested the measures were an improper use of time for teachers, many of whom are already considering leaving the profession due to burnout and high workloads
Figures show that 42,000 children went to hospital to have teeth removed in 2021/22, 26,700 of whom had tooth decay as their main diagnosis, while tooth decay is the most common reason for children aged six to ten to be admitted to hospital.
Children living in the most deprived areas are three times more likely to have rotting teeth than those in the least deprived areas.
Labour’s plans included funding NHS dental practices to provide 700,000 more urgent appointments for procedures such as root canals and fillings, and the eradication of ‘dental deserts’ in rural areas.
The party says it would be funded by abolishing the non-dom tax status, which would reportedly raise an extra £3.2billion. Sir Keir said: ‘People are finding it impossible to get an NHS dentist when they need one. My Labour government will not stand for millions of people being denied basic healthcare. But health minister Neil O’Brien said: ‘Labour’s sums do not add up. They are taking people for fools.
‘Keir Starmer’s shadow health secretary admitted their policy would not raise enough to carry out Labour’s NHS plans. Labour will always take the easy way out with more borrowing and spending.’
But the policy was backed by the country’s largest dental body.
Shawn Charlwood from the British Dental Association said: ‘Tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children, so supervised brushing is a no brainer. It’s a tried and tested policy that would pay for itself.’
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