Well, we’ve all seen the headlines over the past week about a crisis in children’s dental health. It’s not a new story by any means but, this time, it is the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons that is slamming the government for its poor efforts in prevention.
It follows the revelation that, despite being nearly entirely preventable, tooth decay is the most common cause of hospital admissions amongst five-nine year old children – 26,500 children were admitted to hospital between 2014-2015 with the figure rising by almost 1,000 children between 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.
Also in the news, a poll revealed that one million children in the UK reach the age of 8 years old without seeing a dentist. The survey, which involved 2,000 families, found that 1 in 7 children haven’t seen a dentist by the age of 8 years old, despite advice from dentists recommending six-monthly check-ups for children from the age of 12-18 months.
Although earlier this year, the Children’s Dental Health Survey – that covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland and takes place every 10 years – did offer some good news, including:
- Reductions in the extent and severity of tooth decay present in the permanent teeth of 12- and 15-year-olds in the last 10 years (2003 to 2013)
- Decay found in around a third of 12-year-olds (down from 43% in 2003) and half of 15-year-olds (46%, reduced from 56% in 2003).
But, despite this, around a third of 5-year-olds and almost half of 8-year-olds were found to have decay in their milk teeth.
It’s a sorry state of affairs that there are still a large number of children who continue to be affected by poor dental health. This can affect their lives terribly – imagine your child not wanting to smile or laugh because they are ashamed of their teeth or even struggling to eat!
Back in January, I championed the government’s Sugar Swaps initiative – http://www.nhs.uk/change4life/Pages/low-sugar-healthy-snacks.aspx – that offers downloadable information highlighting some simple ways to help your kids eat less sugar.
And, as well as addressing the problem of the amount of sweet stuff we have in our diets, these new stories serve as a timely reminder to parents everywhere to get children into good dental health habits, too. We cannot sit back and let the government take the blame, can we?
So, as schools break up for the summer holidays, why not set aside some time to book a dental appointment for them (and you) and dedicate your efforts to improving your whole family’s dental health care.
My top tips
- Firstly, get into good dental hygiene habits yourself – especially if pregnant! Gum health can suffer in pregnancy with all those hormone changes in the body, gums are more likely to become inflamed as they are more sensitive to the bacteria in plaque. Make sure you visit the dental team regularly throughout those nine months
- Bring along your baby to see a dental hygienist or dental therapist as soon as possible. We are happy to show you how to care for your baby’s mouth and talk through the development of their teeth
- And be sure to register your child with the dental practice on that first visit, too – ideally before their first birthday. Then, visit the dental team at least once a year. It may help to bring them to the practice when you have a check up, too, so that they grow familiar with the sights and sounds of the surroundings
- Supervise teeth cleaning – remember that you are in this for the long haul. You will need to keep a watchful eye on them at least until the age of seven or eight when they will, hopefully, understand what is needed to keep their mouth healthy. Although, I have to say, the longer you can keep an eye on their brushing the better.
- There are so many toothbrush and toothpaste options that it can be confusing. I often talk through preferences with parents of my younger patients.
- Make sure you know what they are eating. Many foods have hidden sugars and, what we may think is healthy, may not be. Read food labels or talk it through with your dental professional about food and drink to avoid
- Stick to tooth brushing twice daily with a small amount of fluoride toothpaste, especially just before bed, avoid snacking on sweet stuff and schedule regular dental checks.