Sir, the topic of food poverty has featured heavily in the news recently. Many families and children are facing difficulties at this time due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and additional pressures over the winter period. The government's previous decision not to supply food vouchers to disadvantaged children over the October school holidays limited many families' ability to opt for healthy food options and have a balanced diet.1
As dental professionals we see the consequences of malnutrition including the effects of an increased risk of caries. We are also seeing an increased use of antibiotics to manage these consequences. Some paediatric patients are presenting with dental abscesses and facial swelling, but are unable to tolerate dental extractions in general practice. As mentioned in a letter to the editor by Robson,2 the services providing extractions under sedation or general anaesthetic are limited and have long waiting lists, meaning that many children are being prescribed multiple courses of antibiotics. Addressing food poverty in children would not only improve overall health, but would align with the government's national strategy to reduce antimicrobial resistance.3
Eddie Crouch, Chair of the BDA recently joined others in signing a letter addressed to the Secretary of State for Education and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families to call for 'funding to be extended to support vulnerable children during school holidays'.4 On 6 November, the government announced a plan to support vulnerable families with a support package, and an intention to support families throughout 2021.5
I would urge all dental professionals to remember that we are in a fortunate position where we can act and promote positive changes to support families at a local level. In the current climate it is important, now more than ever, to work with families to advise on healthy food options, explain methods to prevent dental caries, and to identify those who need additional support accessing food.
Weale S, Adams R. Marcus Rashford in 'despair' as MPs reject free school meal plan. The Guardian 21 October 2020. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/oct/21/marcus-rashford-in-despair-as-mps-reject-free-school-meal-plan (accessed 6 November 2020).
Robson J. Duty to extract. Br Dent J 2020; 229: 499.
Global and Public Health Group. 2019. Contained and controlled: The UK's 20-year vision for antimicrobial resistance. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/773065/uk-20-year-vision-for-antimicrobial-resistance.pdf (accessed November 2020).
Crouch E, Crowther B, Taylor A et al. Letter to Gavin Williamson. 5 November 2020. Available at: https://bda.org/news-centre/press-releases/Documents/letter-to-gavin-williamson-healthy-food-vulverable-children.pdf (accessed November 2020).
Richardson H. Marcus Rashford welcomes school holiday support climbdown. BBC News 8 November 2020. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-54841316 (accessed 8 November 2020).