Children teeth decay on the rise

April 11, 2017

Dentists are increasingly seeing toddlers and young children with dental decay that requires surgery to remove rotting baby teeth.

As snacks and treats get sweeter and more frequent, it’s alarming how much tooth decay in children that dentists are seeing.

More than 1400 children under five years old are admitted to NSW hospitals each year needing to go under a general anaesthetic in order to have teeth pulled or crowns inserted – a figure that’s risen from 1.5 times since 1989-1990.

“This regression in dental health among children is not encouraging,” says Dr Martina Lavery.

“There’s so much added sugar and sweeteners in foods nowadays that more than half of Australian children have tooth decay by the age of six.”

How to cut back on sugar for children

One of the easiest ways to reduce sugar intake in children’s diets is through drinks. Soft drinks should be extremely rare and juice only occasionally, and watered down 50 per cent.

“Children get used to the taste of sugar, but when you start watering down juices you give them, little by little, their tastebuds will adjust and they’ll find the juice just as sweet,” says Dr Martina.

Milk also has a high sugar content. If your child is drinking milk before bed, then ensure you’re cleaning their teeth afterwards, not letting them fall straight asleep with the sugars from milk still on their teeth.

“It’s a non-negotiable nightly ritual in our home that teeth must be brushed thoroughly before going to bed,” says Dr Martina. “I know it can be a challenge as I experience the protests from my own boys, but they know mummy will always win this one!”

The whole purpose of a treat is that it’s given occasionally, not everyday, when it becomes an expectation. Giving children prepacked, refined foods is not only bad for their dental health, but bad for the environment and expensive too.

Simple, healthy, low-cost, low-sugar snacks for children include:

  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Savoury biscuits
  • Corn Thins or Vitawheats with cheese
  • Sunflower seeds toasted in soy sauce
  • Pistachio nuts or cashews (when the child isn’t allergic)

Supervise children’s brushing, or do it for them

It’s advised by The Australian Dental Association to brush your children’s teeth yourself up to the age of eight and talk to them about how to do a thorough job. Up to the age of eight, ideally parents should supervise their children’s brushing, and ensure they do it for two minutes.

You can make it more fun by using a kitchen timer or hourglass, or even a oral hygiene phone app, to keep kids motivated and focused on brushing.

The importance of baby teeth to adult teeth

It’s common for parents to underestimate the importance of baby teeth. Some believe that decay in baby teeth is no big deal as children will develop adult teeth. In fact, baby teeth are very important to children’s health and development. Not only do they help children to properly chew and digest their food, speak and smile, they also affect the health and appearance of adult teeth.

When a baby tooth is lost too early, adult teeth can grow and move into the empty space, making it difficult for other adult teeth to find room when they come in. This make teeth look crooked or crowded, which can result in extensive orthodontic dental work to correct in years to come.

As always in health, the best strategy is prevention.

A study undertaken by a team led by Associate Professor Wendell Evans at the University of Sydney revealed that the need for fillings could be reduced by 30 to 50 per cent through preventative oral care. Surely reducing the need for fillings and major dental work is incentive enough to cut back on sweet treats and supervise your children’s teeth brushing.

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