A programme of fluoride varnishing could be introduced in a bid to help prevent tooth decay for Middlesbrough's most deprived children.

It comes as worrying figures showed the town has the highest level of decay in five-year-olds’ teeth in the North East, with links to deprivation. Figures also suggest the issues continue into adulthood with almost 30 per cent suffering more oral health impacts, compared to just under 18 per cent in England.

Last year, Middlesbrough Council’s health scrutiny panel launched a review of the crisis with key partners, making several recommendations. The council’s Executive met to discuss the review last week and agreed to the recommendations proposed.

These include a potential community fluoride varnish programme for children across Middlesbrough, targeted at the schools with the highest rates of decayed, missing and filled teeth. This is expected to cost around £30,000 a year with future spending funded by an existing Public Health Grant.

The local authority had previously commissioned a programme in primary schools but the programme was paused during the Covid pandemic and never resumed. A survey of five-year-old children is already taking place in schools to identify health inequalities and enable more targeted support while work will also carried out to increase uptake of the supervised tooth brushing programme.

The impact of the pandemic on residents accessing dental care has been significant for Middlesbrough with only 48.5 per cent of children and just under 40 per cent of adults accessing dental care in 2022. In a letter to the Secretary of State for health and social care, the chair of the council’s health scrutiny panel, Cllr Jack Banks, said Middlesbrough’s population is at risk of even poorer dental health and worsening health inequalities.

Dentistry reform must be “a top priority”, he said, to prevent repercussions for the life-long health of current and future generations, particularly among the most disadvantaged communities. “It is vital that the Government addresses the crisis of access in NHS dentistry and ensures that access to NHS dental services is equal and affordable for everyone in the region,” he said.

It comes weeks after the Government announced its £200m dental recovery plan which focuses on oral health in young children and delivering an expanded dental workforce. In January, Teesside was branded a “dental desert” by labour with only one surgery in the area appearing on an NHS website to accept new adult patients.

Under the Government’s plan, dentists would be offered cash to take on new patients and given a £20,000 “golden hello” payments to work in communities with a lack of NHS dental services. It also included support for expansion of water fluoridation, with the North East a priority.

Hartlepool has similar levels of deprivation to Middlesbrough. However rates of dental decay are significantly lower, thought to be connected to its naturally fluoridated water supply,

A new poll by the British Dental Association has found 75 per cent of dentists do not believe the plan goes far enough to improve access for NHS patients to dental care. Healthwatch England has reported horror stories of people forced to pull their own teeth out, with one in 10 Brits claiming to have attempted their own dental work and some even using pliers.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it would deliver millions more NHS dental appointments and “provide easier and faster access to care for people right across the country.” Healthwatch England chief executive Louise Ansari said the Government plan is “a good start” but in the long run, “more radical solutions” were needed to bring NHS dentistry back on track.

Wes Streeting, Shadow health and social care secretary, said Labour has a “fully-costed plan” to rescue NHS dentistry in both the short and long term, providing 700,000 urgent appointments and recruiting new dentists to the areas most in need.