Tooth decay is often associated with bad diets and areas of deprivation. A report released last year by the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that children in lower socio-economic areas had five times the rate of extractions than their richer counterparts. In total, more than 128,000 children under the age of ten had at least one tooth removed between 2010 and 2014, and hospital admissions for extractions were 10 per cent higher than the previous reporting period.
But the affluent are not immune. Once I had to extract four teeth from a nine-year-old. It was very distressing for him and probably traumatised him about going to the dentist again. Many parents are making fundamental mistakes: restricting your child’s intake of sweets and biscuits doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about dental hygiene.
Here are some tips to help save your kids’ teeth:
Healthy eats, healthy teeth
Those shiny food pouches are tempting aren’t they when you’ve got little ones? No mess, no added sugar, and all organic. What about a tub of raisins and apples? That’s got to be good. What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot, I have seen an alarming number of young children coming to my surgery with a mouth full of rotting teeth, even with the best of diets. People think raisins are a healthy option but they will stick to the teeth and turn to bacteria unless you brush within 30 minutes. It is better to eat sweets and lollies if you eat them in one sitting and brush after than to nibble on dried fruit all day.
Top tip: carrot sticks are a good option as they naturally clean the teeth and cubes of cheese have the calcium children need.
Baby bottle tooth decay
Juice is often offered to children but the fruit sugars and acids erode the enamel. The best thing for teeth is milk or water but if you give other drinks brush straight after.
Top tip: give the child water for their bedtime bottle
Milk teeth matter
People may say ‘it’s only baby teeth, it doesn’t matter’, but there can be long term consequences from poor dental hygiene in the early years. You might think milk teeth are not such an issue but decay can travel through to the adult teeth, and if milk teeth are removed too early the [remaining] milk teeth will close the gap and your child may need major orthodontic work which can be painful and traumatic.
Preservation is the key
When the adult teeth come through I highly recommend asking your dentist for sealant where a resin is applied to the biting surfaces. This coats the deep grooves which are most affected by decay and should be done as soon as the permanent teeth appear. I suggest children have the first four molars treated with fissure sealant at age 6 or 7, followed by the second four molars at age 10 to 12.
Brushing too hard can be worse than not brushing at all
Over vigorous brushing is a big problem for gum recession so you should be very careful when brushing your child’s teeth. Avoid being too aggressive on the gums as when the gum is gone it isn’t going to grow back. Brushing should start as soon as the first tooth appears. Top tip I recommend a soft manual toothbrush, rather than an electric model
Do not miss check ups
Take your child for a dental check as soon as the teeth start coming through as this will get them used to the dentist at an early age. I advise visiting the dentist every six months to pick up on any problems and recommend having the teeth cleaned to remove built up plaque.
Top tip: if the child is anxious of the dentist a few of my patients allow their children to wear fancy dress to make it a fun visit to the dentist.
Do not skip dental hygiene
Parents have admitted they don’t always brush children’s teeth before school but as food deposits take 12 hours for bacteria to colonise and cause decay it is important not to miss a session. I recommend supervising or brushing with children up to the age of eight or nine when brushing teeth, making sure all surfaces are covered, including the back teeth which are often missed.
Top tip: brushing for two minutes is advised which children think is a really long time but use a timer and make it fun to keep them on track.
Get dental creative
Toothpaste and toothbrushes can be amusing! Make brushing their teeth a fun experience
Top tip Colgate have a great children’s range.
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