The Tooth Fairy is visiting more young children’s homes than she should be, judging by a new report which shows many toddlers are having their teeth taken out – because parents think they’re too young for the dentist.
New figures show that 80% of one to two year olds in England did not visit the dentist in the last year.
While some parents may think that because the decay’s in baby teeth, it doesn’t matter, dentists warn that if children don’t learn to look after their teeth at a young age, they are likely to have dental problems throughout their lives.
Tooth decay: The facts
As tooth decay is caused by consuming too many sugary foods and drinks too often, dentists say parents need to limit the amount children are given, and get them to brush their teeth for two minutes, twice a day.
Dentist Ben Atkins, clinical director of the Revive Dental Care practices in Manchester, and trustee of the British Dental Health Foundation, says: “It stores up problems for the future if parents don’t ensure their children’s teeth are looked after when they’re young.
“There’s evidence that once you’ve got decayed teeth, you will get more. Looking after baby teeth is a really good preventative regime for when adult teeth come through.”
The PHE study found that in some cases there was a particular type of decay called Early Childhood Caries, which affects the upper front teeth and spreads rapidly to other teeth.
Such decay is related to the consumption of sugary drinks in baby bottles or sipping cups.
PHE advises that instead of sugary drinks, breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for babies, and the best drinks for children aged one to two years are full-fat milk and water. From two years old, semi-skimmed milk and water is fine, as long as children are good eaters.
However, Atkins says knowing which food and drink has a lot of sugar in it can be hard for parents.
“Our job in the dental profession is to educate all our patients about brushing with the correct toothpaste, and identifying food and drink that has sugar in it.
“That’s a real challenge, as things like tomato ketchup have a phenomenal amount of sugar in them, but you wouldn’t think you were having something sugary with your chips.”
The only way to be sure of how much sugar is in food or drink is to read the label.
Avoid the fear factor
Atkins points out that tooth decay has dropped dramatically since fluoride toothpaste was introduced in 1976, and says children aged under three need to use toothpaste with 1,000ppm fluoride, and after the age of three they can use adult toothpaste.
He also suggests that parents bring children with them to dental appointments while they’re still babies, pointing out: “It makes a big difference, because if there’s anything wrong later on, they’re used to coming to the dentist, rather than coming in only when there’s a problem and they might have to have something done that hurts.
“They need to come more frequently to avoid the fear factor.”
He says that while decay is on the whole reducing: “We need to focus on the harder-to-reach people in the lower socio-economic areas.
“We’ve still got 25,000 children every year having teeth removed in hospital unnecessarily, as tooth decay is unnecessary. Often in the lower socio-economic areas there’s a high tooth decay rate.
“We have to be realistic – kids want sweet things. But if you’re going to give them, do it at a meal time instead of at other times during the day, so the mouth is dealing with one solid hit of sugar, instead of children having a sugar solution in their mouth all day.”