Councillor Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board, said the figures show we have an oral health crisis” and called for money raised from the sugar tax to be invested in “innovative oral health education so that parents and children understand the impact of sugar on teeth and the importance of a good oral hygiene regime”.
“Untreated dental care remains one of the most prevalent diseases affecting children and young people’s ability to speak, eat, play and socialise,” she added.
“These figures also highlight how regular check-ups at a dentist can help prevent tooth decay and the need for hospital treatment.”
With this in mind we’ve spoken to the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD) and the Oral Health Foundation to create a guide for parents on how to teach kids about the importance of looking after their teeth is and how to make trips to the dentist less of a chore.
How to teach kids about how sugar impacts their teeth.
We might understand it, but it can be hard for children to understand that the fizzy drinks they’re consuming and the sweets they’re eating are directly impacting their oral health.
“What you say to them depends on the age of a child,” said Claire Stevens, president of the BSPD and the author of the toothfairyblog.org.
“With very young children, delay introducing sugary drinks as long as possible. If they only have milk and water, they don’t want anything else. The day will come when they are given a drink elsewhere, but as the parent you can say we don’t have these drinks in our home.
“As they get older, you can discuss the sugar content of products and make your child aware of the risks. You can say that a fizzy drink is something they can have occasionally with a meal when they are out. If consumed, sugary drinks are just for mealtimes.”
“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 very important to also get them to speak with a dental professional, as they may take in key information an authority figure they may understand and take key information in more effectively.”
How parents can encourage kids to take care of their teeth.
Dr Atkins said there are a few ways parents can help teach kids that looking after their teeth is important from an early age.
“Make it part of their everyday routine, brush before bed and at one other time during the day,” he advised. “Make sure you have time to do this properly with the children. I often advise that children’s brushing should be monitored until they are seven years old.”
He also advised that parents should get children involved as much as possible.
“Get them to pick a toothbrush with their favourite character on,” he suggested. “Brush along to their favourite song, there are apps which you can use to do this.
“There are also mobile games which you can brush along to ‘kill all the bugs’ which help motivate them. A reward chart to track their brushing habits and also diet habits too are great ways of getting them actively involved.”
Stevens said children will understand the importance of tooth brushing if they see their parents taking care of their teeth. She also advised toothbrushing with a fluoride toothpaste as soon as first teeth come through.
“After the age of one, try and make sure that the last thing on your baby’s teeth at night is fluoride toothpaste,” she said. “Once your child has finished brushing their teeth, it’s important to spit and not rinse the mouth. Dentists like the fluoride to stay working in the mouth for as long as possible.”
The next big step is to get them to the dentist - something kids can (understandably) get scared about. Here are seven ways to make sure your kids aren’t terrified at the thought.
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.
“As soon as they are born, at my practice we welcome babies, because then by the time they need to jump on the chair they have visited two or three times and the hardest decision is which sticker to take home.”
2. Start them early.
Stevens said the BSPD introduced a Dental Check by One campaign as many parents are unaware how important it is to 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. However, if you are very nervous then have your appointment on a different day, so your nerves can be treated separately.
4. Explain exactly what happens.
Your child may not remember their last appointment.
Fear of the unknown can make the whole experience seem even more daunting.
“Speak through with them exactly what will happen during their dental visit so they know what to expect,” Dr Atkins said.
5. Ensure they are comforted and rewarded.
“Let them take something to comfort them, a favourite toy or book or even music can help clam them,” said Dr Atkins.
“Also after the appointment, rewards do work too, but make sure it is not sweets, - a special trip after or a new book can motivate them.”
6. Give them the option of where to sit.
The big dentist’s chair (especially when a child is so little) can seem incredibly scary, so don’t worry if the first few times they don’t make it on there alone.
“Letting them sit on your lap is a great way to comfort them,” said Dr Atkins. “I find giving the patient the option: ‘Where would you like to sit, on daddy’s knee or on the chair on your own?’
“This gives the child control, and visiting the dentist is all about control, if the child feels that they are in control then a visit to the dentist can feel like a breeze.”
7. Make the experience fun.
Stevens said as your child grows older, they can climb onto the chair themselves and try to enjoy the experience of the “big chair”.
“A lot of children enjoy the fun of the moving chair going up and down,” she said. “That’s how I get my patients to feel at home in my surgery.”
For a guide on what parents should know before they take their kids to the dentist, visit the BSPD website.