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Inequalities in the dental health needs and access to dental services among looked after children in Scotland: a population data linkage study

Abstract

Background There is limited evidence on the health needs and service access among children and young people who are looked after by the state. The aim of this study was to compare dental treatment needs and access to dental services (as an exemplar of wider health and well-being concerns) among children and young people who are looked after with the general child population.

Methods Population data linkage study utilising national datasets of social work referrals for ‘looked after’ placements, the Scottish census of children in local authority schools, and national health service’s dental health and service datasets.

Results 633 204 children in publicly funded schools in Scotland during the academic year 2011/2012, of whom 10 927 (1.7%) were known to be looked after during that or a previous year (from 2007–2008). The children in the looked after children (LAC) group were more likely to have urgent dental treatment need at 5 years of age: 23%vs10% (n=209/16533), adjusted (for age, sex and area socioeconomic deprivation) OR 2.65 (95% CI 2.30 to 3.05); were less likely to attend a dentist regularly: 51%vs63% (n=5519/388934), 0.55 (0.53 to 0.58) and more likely to have teeth extracted under general anaesthesia: 9%vs5% (n=967/30253), 1.91 (1.78 to 2.04).

Conclusions LAC are more likely to have dental treatment needs and less likely to access dental services even when accounting for sociodemographic factors. Greater efforts are required to integrate child social and healthcare for LAC and to develop preventive care pathways on entering and throughout their time in the care system.

  • lac-dental
  • looked after children
  • data-linkage
  • dental caries
  • tooth extraction
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