Are we doing enough to protect our children’s teeth?

The smiles of children across the UK are in need of a serious intervention, for too long parents have been allowing their children to consume sugary and acidic foods and drinks that can have a damaging effect on their children’s teeth. This, coupled with the fact that many children have never even visited the dentist, is creating a crisis for children’s oral health.

According to the latest Child Dental Health Survey, commissioned by the Health & Social Care Information Centre, a third of five-year-olds and almost half of eight-year-olds had visible tooth decay. While this figure has improved from 10 years ago, it still highlights that more attention needs to be paid to children’s tooth care if we are going to carry on reducing incidences of tooth decay.

Of course, in the majority of cases parents don’t even realise that there is a problem, so it’s important that awareness is raised.

From what age should children visit the dentist?

Babies usually start to develop teeth when they are around six months old. The NHS recommends that children have their first visit to the dentist shortly after their first primary tooth has erupted, after this they should go for regular check-ups every few months, or as advised by their dentist.

Children need to attend the dentist for regular check-ups, so that the dentist can examine the child’s oral health and hygiene, ask about any problems or pain, and advise on teeth cleaning habits. Check-ups are needed at least once a year for under 18s, however it’s ultimately up to the dentist, as they may want to see patients as regularly as every 3 months.

While there may not be any problems with their milk teeth, it’s important that children get used to being at the dentist, by familiarising themselves with the environment and getting to know the dentist so that they can feel at ease. This will eliminate any anxieties should they need to have any dental procedures in the future.

A primary concern

According to our research, 26% of parents have never taken their child to the dentist. More worryingly, the highest number of people who admitted this were aged between 25 and 34, an age group which is more likely to have young children with primary teeth.

There is a common misconception that young children who haven’t started to develop their adult teeth can consume whatever they like, because their teeth are going to fall out anyway, so allowing their milk teeth to rot won’t have an impact on their adult teeth. However, this is very much a myth, and a dangerous myth at that.

This can be an issue for two reasons. The first is that it may damage the permanent tooth underneath, causing it to come through with brown staining, and/or it may come through malformed. Secondly, the infection may cause the adult tooth to stop growing completely, if this happens the adult tooth has to be extracted from the mouth before it even breaks through the gum. In some cases, even if the infection does not spread to the adult tooth underneath, untreated tooth decay in primary teeth can mean that the tooth needs to be removed, while there is a space in the mouth another adult tooth may try and grow into, creating crowded teeth which may require attention in later life.

Regardless of the fact that failing to look after milk teeth will affect the permanent teeth underneath, having rotten milk teeth will cause a child a great deal of suffering and pain. If children need to have serious dental treatment, they could develop a lifelong aversion of the dentist and might ignore their oral health throughout the rest of their life due to this fear.

Preventative measures

As a dental professional, it is crucial that young patients, and their parents, are educated on how to care for milk teeth if we are going to prevent tooth decay.

Children should take the same measures as adults to protect their teeth, by brushing at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing and using mouthwash. As children’s teeth are more fragile, you should recommend that they use child-specific products to prevent any damage. Vigilant oral health, good hygiene and regular dental check-ups should help to prevent the signs of tooth decay.