I watched the live twitter feed as #TheDentists was on last night (I know, I need to get out more) and I was struck (but secretly pleased) by the outrage from the general public as child after child was referred for the removal multiple teeth under general anaesthesia. “Refer to social services” said one. “Some people should not be allowed to have children” said another. So if we all think this is appalling, then how come day in day out I refer children for this procedure? How can you stop your child getting holes in their teeth?
Firstly, lets get this straight. Dental decay or caries is 100% preventable. There are a few conditions where the teeth come through poorly formed as a result of a genetic condition or a disturbance which happens around the time of birth but these are in the minority. Most of the children and young people I see have holes which could have been avoided. So is it just a case of eating fewer sweets? Well yes, and no. Yes, because diet is a big factor, but its not the only one.
So, here are my top tips to stop your child getting holes in their teeth:
1) Get grandparents on side
Try to encourage grandparents to use alternative treats to sweets – putting money in their piggy bank or buying a small gift can allow them to spoil grandchildren without wrecking their teeth.
2) Spit, don’t rinse
From the age of 3 your child can use a pea sized amount of adult toothpaste. Encourage them to spit out excess paste, but not rinse their mouth with water. Why? Because rinsing washes away the fluoride which has shown to reduce dental decay.
3) Respect the golden hour
Dentists call the hour before bed, “The golden hour”. Avoid letting your child have anything to eat or drink in this time aside from water. The reason for this is that when whenever we have anything containing sugar to eat, it takes our mouths time to recover and to move from the process of demineralisation (making holes in teeth) to remineralision (rebuilding them again). When we sleep, our mouths dry out and we lose the protective effect of saliva. This is why having sweet things in the hour before bed is a recipe for disaster.
4) Read the label
“No added sugar” does not equal “Sugar free”. Please keep squash to mealtimes and as a treat only. Fizzy drinks should also be kept as a mealtime treat – diet drinks are better than “full fat” equivalents but remember that the acid can still cause erosive damage to teeth.
5) Keep sweet treats to mealtimes
The key things with diet are to minimise the quantity and frequency of sugary foods. I’m not saying don’t give your child any sweet treats, but make sure they are that, treats with a meal. This causes less damage to teeth because it is the same “intake” of food rather than a separate episode of demineralisation. Remember, children aren’t born with a taste for fizzy drinks and sweets. They acquire it. You should be aiming for no more than 4-5 intakes per day.
6) Campaign for water fluoridation
Did you know that adding fluoride to water can reduce dental decay by half and that it costs less to provide a lifetime of water fluoridation for one person than one small filling? So why is the whole of the UK not fluoridated? Sadly, there is a small but vocal antifluoridation lobby which has scaremongered the general public and water companies from progressing with this vital public health measure….and no, it does not cause cancer, damage bones or any of the above.
7) Supervise brushing
Supervise your child’s brushing until they are 8 years old as there is evidence to show that they do not have the manual dexterity to go it alone until this time. By all means let them brush their own teeth, but make sure you go in afterwards to ensure everything is nice and clean. Disclosing tablets can also be helpful for spot checks on older children!
8) Go for check-ups
Take your child for a check up every 6 months, or more frequently if your dentist recommends. These visits will allow your child to get used to the dental environment and for your dentist to spot problems when they are easily fixable. Your dentist can also provide treatments such as topical fluoride (painting fluoride onto the teeth) and fissure sealants (coating of back teeth) to reduce the risk of dental decay. Don’t forget, dental treatment for children is free in the UK 🙂
9) Use a fluoride mouthwash
Once your child can spit out effectively, you can encourage them to use a fluoride mouthwash at a different time of day to when they brush their teeth. Why a different time of day? Because fluoride works best a little and often. Did you know that using a fluoride mouthwash every day can reduce dental decay by 30%. That’s not a bad investment for 2 minutes of work, is it? If your child doesn’t like minty tastes, try Big Teeth Mouthwash – it has a taste not unlike sweets (?!) which seems to be very popular. For older children and adults, I like Fluoriguard but any alcohol-free, fluoride mouthwash will do the trick.
10) Parent your child and lead by example
Finally, don’t be afraid to say no to your child. Parenting is amongst other things about setting boundaries for your children. I’m not saying it is easy and certainly when you are busy and tired it can feel at times overwhelming. Giving in can seem like the easy option for the sake of ‘keeping the peace’ but in my experience it is never the easy option for the longer term. Try, try, try not to create bad habits which your child may take with them into adulthood. You are their role model, lead by example.