Labour plans for supervised toothbrushing in schools - but teachers aren’t happy

Labour plans for supervised toothbrushing in schools - but teachers aren’t happy

Supervised toothbrushing could be brought into school classrooms across England under new Labour proposals to improve the nation’s oral health.

The party says the idea, along with providing an extra 700,000 urgent dentist appointments, would form part of a plan to fix the dentistry crisis.

But school leaders’ union the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said it was not the role of teachers to make sure children brush their teeth. The body has accused both Labour and the Conservatives of “window-dressing” instead of tackling the real issues in education.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan this week announced the government would ban children from having mobile phones at school.

Paul Whiteman, the union’s general secretary, said: ”This week we have seen guidance on mobile phones from government and a new dentistry duty from the opposition.

“This is not the immediate response needed to solve the mounting crises in school. We need to see greater ambition in the short, medium and long term.

“We have serious reservations about how such a policy could even work. It is not the role of teachers to be making sure children brush their teeth each day.”

He said schools already play a role in teaching children about the importance of looking after their teeth through the curriculum, but “there has to be a limit in terms of what we can expect them to do”.

He added: “We should demand more than window-dressing from all of our politicians.”

Labour’s proposals, aimed at “rescuing NHS dentistry”, also involve creating an extra 700,000 urgent dental appointments.

People in most need of treatments including fillings and root canal work would be prioritised.

And a programme to help three- to five-year-olds form healthy brushing habits would tackle preventable tooth decay, the party said.

People are finding it impossible to get an NHS dentist when they need one, with appalling consequences

Sir Keir Starmer

The party plans to fund its £111m-a-year proposals by abolishing the non-dom tax status.

“People are finding it impossible to get an NHS dentist when they need one, with appalling consequences. Horror stories of DIY dentistry are too frequent,” said Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

In July a report by the Health and Social Care Committee said more people were pulling out their own teeth at home as they could not access NHS services.

Data published by NHS Digital revealed 18.1 million adults in England were seen by an NHS dentist in the 24 months leading up to June 2023 compared with 21.9 million in June 2019.

Professor Claire Stevens of the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry welcomed Labour’s proposals, saying: “This is a serious plan to both grip the immediate crisis and set NHS dentistry on the path to recovery in the long-term.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are making progress to boost NHS dental services and the number of children seen by NHS dentists rose by 14 per cent last year.

“Compared to the previous year, 1.7 million more adults and 800,000 more children are receiving NHS dental care.

“We fund more than £3 billion of NHS dentistry a year and are taking preventative measures to improve children’s oral health, such as expanding water fluoridation schemes.”