Blog by Claire Burgess
Head of Research, Consultancy and Training at Norland College and a qualified Norland Nanny
For many of us caring for children, their oral care comes as part of a larger daily routine. Times when teeth need to be brushed tend to be busy, children are tired or when you need to be ready to go out of the house. Because of this, brushing of teeth can sometimes be regarded as just something that needs to be done, and is then done ‘quickly’ to put a tick in the box. While doing this quickly might happen on occasion, it should not be an everyday occurrence; the importance of developing good dental health in our children is one of the life skills we need to teach them in their formative years.
In recent months there has been a steep increase in the number of reports and media coverage in relation to the state of our children’s oral and dental health. Public Health England reports that although dental caries (tooth decay) is preventable it is still the most common oral disease in children and affects 23% of 5 year-olds (2017). During 2014 to 2015 there were 33,871 cases of children aged 10 and under that needed the removal of one or more teeth and that tooth decay was the most common reason for hospital admissions in children aged 5 to 9 years old.
These figures appear to be increasing every year and it is worrying. There needs to be a greater focus on encouraging and helping our children to look after their teeth. I have often heard people say “Oh we don’t need to worry too much at this stage as it is only their baby teeth” and this is the type of statement and misconception that must be challenged. Those ‘baby teeth’ are paving the way for good gums and oral health – if we don’t start to look after these teeth and gums early, then this will absolutely have an impact in the long term. One of the easiest ways to ensure that children are aware of the need for good oral health is to start visiting the dentist and brushing teeth and gums before the age of one. The earlier that we expose children to situations with differing sounds, smells and sights, the more accepting they will be of them; ensuring a visit to the dentist becomes a perfectly normal experience. Last year, in 2017,The British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD) and the NHS developed the #DCby1 (Dental Check by the age of one ) initiative which was a great start to developing much needed awareness and focus on children’s dental and oral health. When you take your baby to the dentist, ask about the Bickiepegs certificate which should be available from all dentist surgeries. This is a lovely way to record your baby’s first and future visits to the dentist.
One of the biggest changes to influence poor oral health over recent years has been a child’s diet. We have seen a significant increase in sugary drinks and snacks with many people also not seeing the hidden sugars in lots of ‘child-friendly’ meals and snacks. The snack ‘culture’ has also developed at a rapid rate meaning that very young children are having many more snacks than ever before. One of the main issues we have is that children are grazing over prolonged periods of time; not only does this have an effect on children’s appetites when coming to eat their main meals, but it also means that the decay causing acid, which stays in the mouth for approximately 20 minutes after eating, sits in the mouth for potentially hours as the child continues to have regular eating/snacking episodes. When looking at creating healthy routines we should try to ensure that snack time takes a maximum of 15 minutes and that after that snack has been eaten that there is no more food until the next mealtime.
Further to changes in the snack culture, the development of the anti-spill cups has been seen as a perfect invention to put an end to drinks spilling or leaking in changing bags etc.. However, the impact of these cups on our children’s dental health has not been highlighted. When children come to use these cups they have to suck quite hard to get the fluid through the anti-spill function. By doing this, they are holding the liquid in their mouth and then swallowing, which means that, if, for example, the drink is a juice, the sugar sits around the teeth which can potentially cause decay. We want to encourage children to drink out of open or free flow cups/beakers, as these allow the liquid to be swallowed directly and therefore limits time for any sugar to contact the teeth. Use of an open cup also encourages the child’s hand-to-eye coordination and enables them to drink independently from an early age with no need to introduce a spout or teat.
Much of what can be done to keep our children’s teeth in tip top condition is simple, but it is essential that we place a high importance on ensuring that we are doing the very best for them from the outset.
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