THE BLOG

Playing at Dentists and Teaching the Art of the 'Gentle Scrub'

28/04/2016 15:21

Tooth decay among young children is big in the news this month with the cost of removing teeth in hospital rising by 66% since 2010-11, according to the British Dental Association.

It's shocking and sad and completely preventable, not to mention expensive for the NHS.

But let's remember that for every poor child undergoing the trauma of fillings or even extraction under general anaesthetic there are many more under 5s learning good brushing techniques and fostering healthy attitudes to food that will set them up for life, with the support of their families and nurseries.

Clearly as a nation, we need to step this up. Hand in hand with childhood obesity, the figures for tooth decay are rising, not falling, and the tide of sugar-laden food and drink in our supermarkets is higher than ever.

Will the Chancellor George Osborne's sugar tax help? I hope so. But the British Dental Association warns that it won't be enough on its own and is calling for a strategy involving parents, politicians and health professionals together. This also needs to involve childcarers.

The Local Government Association spoke up too, calling for greater availability of water in nurseries as well as schools and colleges, among other measures.

This brings me on to the good work that nurseries already do. All nurseries already serve water and milk, not pop, to children.

Early years practitioners know that water and milk are the only safe drinks for young teeth. They are well-educated in dental health - they learn about it as part of their training.

Do you know why dentists recommend saving sugar for mealtimes? It's to limit acid attacks on teeth to a couple of times a day, giving saliva a chance to wash sugar away in between times.

Again, this is something that nursery staff understand. Therefore expansion of free nursery places for two-three and four-year-olds over the past few years and the forthcoming increase to 30 free hours' childcare for working parents is a great opportunity to have a positive effect on dental health for the children who attend.

Though tooth brushing might not routinely happen at some nurseries, given that twice-a-day bushing is recommended, NDNA encourages member nurseries to spend time and effort helping children to perfect the art of the 'gentle scrub'.

This recognised and toddler-friendly method of brushing involves holding the brush at 45 degrees, aiming it at the neck of the tooth where it meets the gum, and using short, horizontal movements.

Our Healthy Body Happy Me campaign this month, promoting good health and hygiene to thousands of children in hundreds of nurseries, encompasses tooth brushing.

Nursery workers routinely talk to children and families about healthy eating and drinking and build their days around healthy habits.

They also know how to work with parents to limit dummies to sleep time - too much can stop upper front teeth from growing in the correct position - and to discourage constant sipping from bottles and beakers with spouts.

There are also the healthy eating principles that support all-round good health so well-followed in nurseries. But that's not all.

Where children show and interest in teeth, and want to play dentists, NDNA recommends a full roleplay scenario complete with a waiting area with magazines, a reception desk with a diary for appointments, a dentist's chair and a bowl and beaker for 'rinsing'.

With props such as a white shirt, mask and gloves for the dentist, home-made x-ray charts and diagrams of teeth, goggles for the patient and toy instruments, and under guidance from a practitioner, half a dozen children can learn a lot from this game.

They can learn even more from a group trip to their local dentist - another measure that NDNA recommends - or a visit from a dental nurse or dentist to the nursery. If a nursery has a parent who works in dental care, and who could pop in to talk about their job, even better!

So how can we spread nursery-style good eating, drinking and tooth brushing habits further and wider to help turn those statistics around? So that families are always thinking about teeth when it's time for a treat? And that treats are just that - not everyday snacks?

As the British Dental Association says, it will take everyone - nurseries, families, politicians, health professionals - pulling together, to bring about the pulling out of fewer little teeth.

Count us in.

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