Tooth decay in children is on the rise, with an unprecedented number of tooth extractions affecting young in the last ten years. The number of children under four years old suffering from tooth decay to the point of needing an extraction has risen from 7444 in 2005/6 to over 9200 in 2015/6. In other words, tooth extractions in toddlers is up by almost a quarter. Unfortunately this problem isn’t just affecting young kids. Tooth extractions are becoming more and more common in dentist surgeries up and down the country, mainly down to the very preventable condition of tooth decay.
What is tooth decay?
Tooth decay is a condition caused by plaque, which is the name given to a build up of bacteria on the teeth which form a type of film. When you consume food and drink high in carbohydrates, such as sugary soft drinks and lollipops, as well as carbohydrate rich foods like bread, the bacteria in your mouth process that food into energy, but also acid. If the acid on your teeth in the form of plaque is allowed to build up, eventually it will start to dissolve the surface of your tooth, causing holes or cavities. The bacteria will then be able to move into the tooth and decay it further until there is no other option but to have it removed.
Preventing tooth decay in children
It is very important that you give your child’s teeth just as much attention as you would your own, as they are just as vulnerable to tooth decay. Here are some tips for keeping decay at bay.
1. Start brushing as soon as the first tooth comes through
The minute your baby starts teething, you need to be thinking about their dental health. You should brush their teeth with a small toothbrush and tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste regularly, which will keep their teeth healthy and get them accustomed to the daily routine of brushing.
2. Ensure they’re brushing properly
Your child should be brushing twice a day, each time for about two minutes. At least one of these times should be directly before bedtime. When they’re first trying it by themselves, guide their hand in the correct movement. It can also help to make them brush in front of a mirror to see where the toothbrush is and how it all works. You should supervise them until they are seven or eight years old, when they will be able to manage by themselves.
3. Get toothpaste right
Children from the age of seven can use regular adult toothpaste, so don’t worry about investing in a special brand for children if it’s not necessary. Family toothpaste is fine as long as it contains fluoride (ideally at least 1000ppm). Use the right amount of toothpaste and monitor their use of it, making sure they take the right amount and don’t swallow or lick it. As a rule, children under three should just have a smear of toothpaste, and children between three and six should only have a pea sized amount.
4. Cut down on sugary food and drinks
The best liquids for your child’s teeth are water and milk, and ideally they should be avoiding sugar-sweetened drinks. Sweets such as lollipops which stay in the mouth for an extended time must also be avoided as far as possible, since they can be particularly damaging. Sugar can be found in surprisingly high quantities in everything from pasta sauces to bread, so it is important to choose foods for your family carefully, both for their teeth and general health.
5. Don’t neglect the dentist
The NHS provides free dental care for all children under the age of 18. You should find and register your child with a local dentist to ensure they get regular check ups. Whether you are a fan of visiting the dentist or not, it is important to make this a positive experience for your child as far as possible. The dentist will in turn do their best to reassure your child and reward them with a sticker or something similar for their attendance. As well as checking their teeth, the dentist will be also be able to advise on everything from brushing techniques to diet changes that will benefit dental hygiene, so you shouldn’t hesitate to ask any questions when you attend.
6. Make it fun!
From star charts to mark off each time they’ve brushed, to an egg timer that goes off after a two-minute brushing session, there are so many ways you can make you child enjoy caring for their teeth. and lower their chances of tooth decay. You’ll be forming the habit of a lifetime, and making sure they start off on the right foot which will be of great benefit to them and their future tooth health!