PLANS to tackle inequalities in dental health in County Durham have been set out by councillors.

Members of Durham County Council’s Cabinet agreed an Oral Health Strategy for the next three years when they met on Wednesday.

The authority and its partners plan to work together to reduce dental disease and improve oral health, particularly in young children and vulnerable groups.

Councillor Lucy Hovvels, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for adult and health services, said: “Oral health is important in itself but it also affects our general health and wellbeing.

“Poor oral health can affect someone’s ability to eat, speak, smile and socialise normally, whether through pain or social embarrassment.

“It is also clearly apparent that there are significant inequalities in dental health, with people living in deprived communities far more likely to suffer from tooth decay."

The strategy has been drawn up by a steering group, which includes members of the dental profession, paediatricians and representatives from the council and Public Health England, and was developed following a public consultation.

While oral health has improved over the past 20 years, figures from 2012 show that almost a third of five-year-olds in England had tooth decay.

In County Durham, there are wide variations in dental health for young children, with 61 per cent of five-year-olds in the Woodhouse Close area of Bishop Auckland having had tooth decay compared to just six per cent in the Chester-le-Street South ward.

There is also evidence that people living in deprived communities consistently have poorer dental health as do vulnerable groups such as the socially isolated, older and frail and those with a physical or mental disability.

The report makes a number of recommendations for improving oral health in the county including considering supervised brushing schemes and fluoride varnish schemes in nurseries and primary schools.