THE Tooth Fairy is visiting more young children’s homes than she should be, judging by the rising number of young children with tooth decay.
While some parents may think that because the decay is 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.
As tooth decay is caused by consuming too many sugary foods and drinks, 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 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.”
One particular type of decay called early childhood caries, which affects the upper front teeth and spreads rapidly to other teeth, is related to the consumption of sugary drinks in baby bottles or sipping cups. Experts advise 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.
“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.
As well as reducing both the amount and how often sugary foods and drinks are given to children, dentists are encouraging parents of young children to take the following steps to keep their teeth healthy:
Don’t add sugar to weaning foods or drinks.
Introduce drinking from a free-flow cup from six months of age and stop feeding from a bottle from 12 months of age.
Start brushing children’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears and supervise their tooth brushing until they’re seven or eight years old.
Brush children’s teeth twice daily, including just before bed, using a fluoride toothpaste.
From the age of three, use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, for younger children a smear.
Use only sugar-free medicines.
However, Atkins acknowledges that parents need to be realistic.
“Kids want sweet things. But if you’re going to give them, do it at a mealtime 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.”
Atkins suggests that to make sure children brush for two minutes, parents should either use an egg timer, or play a song that lasts for that long. In addition, after brushing, children should just spit out the toothpaste, rather than rinsing with water which gets rid of much of the fluoride.
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