PHE’s figures show around 141 children a day – some aged just one year old – are having teeth removed and tooth decay is the most common reason for hospital admissions for children aged five to nine. As well as causing problems with eating and sleeping, it leads to 60,000 days missed from school each year.
Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, said: “These figures are far beyond what anybody should deem acceptable. The pain and distress caused to the children undergoing these operations, some of whom have barely reached their first birthday, is absolutely heart-breaking and must be addressed urgently.”
As the government’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy comes into effect today [6 April], PHE’s Change4Life campaign is encouraging parents to swap sugary drinks out of their children’s diets, as they said consuming too much sugar is one of the leading causes of tooth decay.
“It’s upsetting to see so many children admitted to hospital with tooth decay, but swapping out sugary drinks could be an easy win for busy families,” said Dr Sandra White, dental lead for PHE. “Parents can also help prevent decay by making sure their children’s teeth are brushed twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and reducing how much sugar they’re eating and drinking.”
PHE’s Change4Life campaign is encouraging parents to:
:: Swap sugary drinks for lower or no sugar alternatives, including water and lower fat milks.
:: Limit fruit juice and smoothies to a total of 150ml per day and only consume with meals – they count as a maximum of one portion of our ‘5 A Day’ and can contain a lot of sugar.
:: Ensure children brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste (once before bedtime and once during the day) and remind them to “spit not rinse”, as rinsing washes away the protective fluoride. Brushing should start as soon as the first tooth appears and children should be supervised until they are seven.
PHE also highlighted the high amounts of sugar in drinks often consumed by children: a can of energy drink contains on average 13 cubes of sugar; a can of cola contains on average nine cubes of sugar; and a juice drink with added sugar contains on average five cubes of sugar (based on 200ml juice drink pouch).
Dentist Dr Ben Atkins, a clinical director of Revive Dental Care and trustee of the Oral Health Foundation previously told HuffPost UK it is important to help children understand how much sugar is in different drinks. “They may have difficulty understanding that a can of cola or their fruit juice has a huge amount of sugar in, so to get them to understand you can show them by pouring out the amount of sugar in a product and putting it next to the food or drink,” he said. “There are many videos online which show this and are very easy to replicate at home. It is important to also get them to speak with a dental professional, as they may take in key information from an authority figure more effectively.”
Dr Carter said the Oral Health Foundation does not believe the sugar tax goes far enough. “It fails to address the issue of excessive sugar in fruit juices, milk-based drinks and multi-packs and also does not generate any funds to improve oral health education in the UK,” he said. “Try and limit children’s snacking to no more than two a day and replace unhealthy sugary snacks with healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables. The Change4Life mobile app is a great way of helping to achieve this.”
How to encourage kids to look after their teeth:
1. Take them on a few visits before it’s their turn.
Dr Atkins said getting younger kids to join you or an older sibling on a trip to the dentist is a good way of getting them used to the sights and sounds of a dentist’s room and understand there is nothing to worry about. “Start them early, take them to the dentist before their first teeth even start to appear,” he explained.
2. Start them early.
Claire Stevens, president of the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry, said it is vital parents get their young child to the dentist when their first teeth come through. “If you can start your child going to the dentist early, then as they grow up, they are not anxious - it’s a positive experience,” she explained.
3. Act as a role model.
“Much of children’s anxiety comes from their parents or carers,” explained Dr Atkins. “Try to ensure you do not pass this on to the kids by avoiding speaking about bad experiences.” One way to do this is to also book an appointment yourself directly ahead of theirs, so they can see that there is nothing to be afraid of.