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Let the Teeth Eat the Food

Let the Teeth Eat the Food, not the Food Eat the Teeth

The New Zealand Dental Association urges parents to think about their childrens’ teeth during Well Child Week. “Far too many New Zealand mums and dads are not taking good care of their childrens’ oral health,” says NZDA Executive Director Dr David Crum.

“It’s an unfortunate fact that many children don’t have a regular, or thorough, brushing and flossing routine. The problem is compounded by diet, with children consuming foods and drinks with a high sugar and acid content. As a result, we are seeing the emergence of a generation of children who have very high rates of dental caries and other associated oral health problems. In the worst cases, young children are ending up in hospital having their teeth removed. Because of poor oral hygiene, children today are having their teeth literally eaten away by the foods they eat.”

A background report titled Child Oral Health Inequalities in New Zealand, due to be released on 13 May 2003 by the New Zealand Public Health Advisory Committee, paints a grim picture of our childrens’ oral health.

The report states that 47 percent of New Zealand’s five-year-olds have dental caries. By the time children reach the age of 12-13, this figure has risen to 58 percent. According to the report, there is “abundant evidence” that dental caries is worse in children of low socio-economic status. Maori and Pacific Island children are more likely to have a greater number of, and more severe, dental caries than other ethnic groups.

“The sad thing is that tooth decay and gum disease are so preventable,” says Dr Crum. “A good diet and only a few minutes each day to make sure your child’s teeth are well cleaned. If every parent did this, we would see far fewer children on our hospital dental waiting lists.”

Specialist Paediatric Dentist, Dr Nina Vasan, has put together the following tips for parents.

Start cleaning your baby’s teeth as soon as they appear Use a damp cloth and a smear of junior toothpaste. At around one year of age move up to a junior toothbrush with a small head, soft bristles and an easy-to-hold handle. The easiest way to brush is to sit your child in your lap or in a chair in front of you and brush from behind (the motions are then similar to brushing your own teeth). Use a ‘jiggling’ motion, moving the toothbrush backwards and forwards on the tooth surface. Using gentle pressure, brush outside, inside and biting surfaces. If your child won’t let you brush, persevere, it is important. Make brushing a family affair, use gentle restraint or make a game out of it and take turns.

Remember to floss As soon as two teeth touch together try to floss your child’s teeth (this is easiest if you have them lying down). Tie the floss in a circle so you don’t have to wrap it around your fingers, a smear of toothpaste on the floss helps deliver fluoride to the contact point between the teeth which is an area prone to decay. For busy households this needn’t be everyday (every other day is better than never).

Choose the correct toothpaste For children under six use a junior paste. It has less fluoride than adults and a milder flavour. Choose one your child likes. Use only a smear and encourage your child to spit out but not rinse out. This leaves a protective layer of fluoride on the teeth.

Don’t forget fluoride Fluoride has been proven to be beneficial to teeth. The main sources of fluoride are toothpastes, supplements (mouthwashes) and fluoridated tap water. We know that fluoride placed on the tooth surface is more important in preventing decay than fluoride tablets or drops. Most children get enough fluoride from water, food and toothpaste but for those on non-fluoridated water supply supplements may be recommended. We advise a fluoride tablet added to a jug of water and use this for cooking and drinking.

When your child is one-year-old, take them to a dentist Standard advice has always been three years (after all the baby teeth have erupted) but we now recommend from one year onwards. This gives an opportunity to check teeth, show cleaning regimes and give appropriate preventive advice. Early check-ups also help build a rapport between child and dentist, and children learn to accept dentistry as part of life.

The only safe drink at night is water If your child needs a bottle at night only place water into it. Other liquids can lead to the development of “bottle caries”. This is decay affecting infants and toddlers who feed from a bottle filled with milk or juice throughout the day and night. At night it is much worse because the production of saliva is less so the liquid isn’t washed away. Try to wean off the bottle as soon as your child can drink from a cup or use a straw to minimise the contact between the drink and the teeth. If your child insists on a bottle of milk, remove it as soon as they are asleep and wipe the teeth with a cloth (especially under the top lip) to remove any milk. The only safe drink at night is water.

Other handy tips:

Avoid sharing spoons with your infant. Current research shows the main source of transmitting ‘decay-forming bacteria’ is from the mother (caregiver) and the critical period is from age 13-24 months. Reducing this initial bacterial habitation will help lower the risk of decay. Ensure both parents have good teeth and gums. Regular checks and good oral hygiene reduces the number of harmful oral bacteria in your mouths, so less are transmitted to your children. Avoid sharing toothbrushes between family members to reduce the spread of bacterial and viral infections. Limit the frequency of sugary and acidic snacks. Make water the main fluid to drink from a young age. Juice and soft drinks have high acid contents and contain acids. One can of coke (200mL) contains approx 4 tablespoons of sugar, as well as phosphoric acid. When frequently consumed in mouths with lots of plaque, decay will form very quickly. Diet coke has sugar substitutes but still contains phosphoric acid and caffeine. Try having snacks like nuts and cheese - these have less ‘decay forming’ potential. Cheese is an excellent snack, as it contains calcium and phosphate which helps to remineralise (strengthen) enamel from acid attacks. Drink lots of water – water has a neutral pH, and helps wash and dilute bacterial acids. If is even more important in children with very little saliva or those living in warmer climates.

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