Why is child oral health so important?

Oral health is a great indicator of overall health. Caring for your child’s teeth will help to prevent tooth decay—and get them off to the best possible start in life.

 

Primary (milk) teeth start coming through from around six months, and most children have a full set of 20 by the age of three. These teeth have thin enamel and are more susceptible to decay. Clean them as soon as they come through with a soft toothbrush, for two minutes, in the morning and just before bed. 

Use a fluoride toothpaste with 1000 ppm fluoride (as listed in the ingredients) until your child is three years old. Then, you should switch to using a toothpaste that has 1000-1500 ppm fluoride. Brush your child’s teeth until they are able to do so for themselves, and supervise them until they turn seven. 

Take your child for their first visit to the dentist by the age of one, or thereabouts, to help them become familiar with the experience. The sooner children are introduced to the dentist, the less likely they are to feel anxious. They should then visit the dentist at least once a year. 

How does oral health relate to overall health? 

Tooth decay is preventable. Eating the right kinds of food at the right time of day, and limiting sweetened foods between mealtimes, can help to keep your child’s teeth healthy. While snacks between meals are fine, sugary foods can weaken enamel over time, so it is better to stick with healthy snacks where possible. 

As well as wide-ranging effects on physical and mental health, children who are overweight or obese have diets and eating habits that lead to increased decay to their permanent teeth. Tooth decay can cause abscesses and toothache which, in turn, can lead to hospital admission for tooth extraction.  

Tooth extraction is the most common reason for admitting children to hospital in the UK and many other countries. Making sure that children have a healthy diet will therefore not only provide direct health benefits, but will also minimise the need for interventions following tooth decay. 

What are the benefits of fluoride and water fluoridation?  

Fluoride is excellent at strengthening tooth enamel—which is why dentists say ‘spit, don’t rinse!’ after brushing. Rinsing with water will wash away the fluoride in toothpaste and reduce its protective effect, which is why children should instead just spit out toothpaste after brushing. 

Fluoride is also found in water. In some parts of the country, it is found naturally in the water supply. In others, it is added to help prevent tooth decay. The fluoride found in water works together with the fluoride found in toothpaste, providing an extra layer of protection for everyone.  

In areas with water fluoridation, studies show an increase in the number of children who never experience tooth decay—as well as benefits for adults. This is particularly helpful for communities where rates of tooth decay are higher due to diet.  

How has COVID-19 impacted oral health? 

Throughout the pandemic, most dental services have only been open for emergencies, and dental extractions involving general anaesthetics have been cancelled in many areas. Because of this, it is inevitable that services will have a backlog of cases to work through once services fully resume.  

In the meantime, it is possible that there will be a rise in the number of children needing treatment for tooth decay. With many children being out of the school routine for several months, there is a concern that they may have been able to snack more frequently, including with sugary foods that may not have been available at school. 

The British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD) has called for restarting toothbrushing schemes as soon as possible to minimise the impact of lockdown. They also suggest that parents and carers can take advantage of extra time, if they are at home, by using apps like Brush DJ to create a family activity. 

What resources exist to encourage good oral health?  

The British Society for Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD) has created COVID-19 dental resources for children

Dr Ranj has created a set of YouTube guides with the BSPD for children aged 0-3, 3-6, and 7+

Find out more from the BSPD’s practical guide to children’s teeth for parents and NHS Live Well