CHILDREN in care are twice as likely to need urgent dental treatment than those who aren't - but are half as likely to attend the dentist, according to new research.

They are also twice as likely to have a tooth removed under general anaesthetic than children not in care, the study led by University of Glasgow researchers found.

The researchers said that childhood dental health is an early indicator of poor physical health, especially the removal of teeth under general anaesthetic.

They said that they'd been "unable to disentangle" whether the difference in dental health is linked to factors that bring children into care in the first place, or whether the State is failing to look after children once they enter the care system.

However, the study did find that almost half of children in care don't attend the dentist regularly, compared to 38 per cent of children in the general population.

The study compared 622,280 children in the general population with 10,924 who were currently or recently in care, which including foster, kinship and residential care, as well as those remaining with their families in compulsory home supervision.

Study lead author Dr Alex McMahon, of University of Glasgow Dental School, said it was the first study of its kind to compare the health of children in care with those in the general population.

He said: "We found that the dental needs and care of children in care were significantly worse than with those children not in care.

"We were also able to show for the first time that these differences were not explained by standard measurable socio-economic factors."

Dr Graham Connelly of CELCIS (Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland), a member of the research team, said: "The research confirmed what we had suspected: looked after children have poorer dental health and lower uptake of dental health services than the general child population. Dental health varies with placement type. It is best among children in foster care and poorest among those who remain in the family home with children's panel and social work support."

Professor David Conway, Professor of Dental Public Health at the University of Glasgow Dental School, said the national Childsmile programme had made "strides" in improving the dental health of Scottish children, but the research was a "stark reminder" more needed to be done to ensure dental services reached the "most vulnerable" children.

"This is going to need even further joined up work between health and social care services. We have had to employ complex methods to look at the health of looked after children. One way this could be improved would be for social services and NHS services to use a single identifier number such as the Community Health Index."

The study was published in the journal, Archives of Disease in Childhood.