Superdrug in Romford has been handing out free toothbrushes and toothpaste to children to launch a campaign calling for the government to remove VAT on all dental products. 

The branch in the Liberty shopping centre marked the launch of Superdrug's 'Healthy Smile' oral care campaign. 

Campaigners are aiming to fill the gap of a ‘dental practice desert’ in the NHS.

The company has also reduced prices on 60 of its own-brand dental products equal to VAT, which started on February 28 as part of the campaign that’s also aiming to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

“Some people are having no choice but pay for expensive private dentists,” a Superdrug spokesman said. “Or worse — they are performing DIY treatments at home.

“Everyone should have access to products that protect their health at affordable prices.”

A survey by the company shows nearly one in five people don’t have a regular dentist and almost as many admitted that they would attempt DIY dentistry on themselves.

Oral care products are currently classed as ‘cosmetics’ and therefore carry the VAT, making them unaffordable for some people, the company argues.

So it has begun the price reduction equal to VAT, following its call last summer for dental products to be reclassified as “healthcare essentials”.

A good oral care routine doesn’t have to be expensive, according to dentist Dr Surina Sehgal, who said: “A lot of the issues we are seeing in our practice are about tooth decay, particularly with children, but these can be prevented with a basic level of care.”

The shortage of NHS dentists goes back to Margaret Thatcher as prime minister who controversially tore up the standard NHS dental contract in the 1980s, forcing many to go private. This led to a growing shortage of NHS practices over the past 40 years.

There is now pressure on the government to scrap VAT altogether on essential dental and other products such as toilet paper and female hygiene items. Non-exempt products subject to VAT include toothpaste and toothbrushes.