Brushing up on child oral health during National Smile Month

I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Emma Gunner and I work for Community Dental Services as the Oral Health Improvement Manager for Essex. My job role is to support and educate the community about Oral Health and its importance, not only for our teeth but our general health.

I previously worked as a Dental Nurse, Oral Health Educator and Practice Manager at a dental practice in Essex so I have also seen the unnecessary and preventable treatment that both adults and children require due to poor Oral Health and lack of education.

That’s what prompted me to write this blog for National Smile Month, which runs from 18th May-18th June. The awareness month is designed to highlight oral health and promotes different activities and resources that can be used to help reduce decay and care for our mouth the same as we care for other parts of our bodies. We know that poor oral health is now linked to heart disease, diabetes, strokes, aspirational pneumonia, Alzheimer’s, low birth weight and prematurity.

For me, going to the dentist as a child was always the “unknown” and something that was always a “big deal” and that’s something that we all need to change. Dental visits should be seen as something as simple as a haircut or a trip to the shops. By ensuring children are taken from a young age it will encourage them to feel at ease during their dental visits, discuss any dietary concerns with the parents and reduce the need for unnecessary dental treatment.

With the sugar rush of Easter behind us, and children at home eating constantly it is a perfect time to think about how much sugar they are consuming and the impact this could be having on their teeth. It can be a minefield trying to work out the best foods to feed your kids or having a daily battle over toothbrushing, so here are some simple tips to help keep your little one’s teeth in tip top condition.

  • Make sure they brush for 2 mins, twice a day- a medium bristle small headed brush is great for getting to those hard to reach areas. Brush last thing at night and any other time during the day. After bedtime brushing no food or drink should be consumed. If your little ones require a drink at night, try to stick to water and wait at least 30 mins after brushing.
  • From the age one your little one can have cows’ milk but it’s best to avoid milk during the night and after brushing at bedtime, as milk contains sugars which can damage the teeth.
  • Ditch the bottle- from six-months children should be encouraged to drink from an open top cup. Drinking through a bottle with sugary substances, such as fruit juice and squash, increases the risk of dental decay due to the slow constant flow of liquid coming into contact with the teeth.
  • It’s recommended that as soon as the first tooth erupts to start brushing. Children 0-3 years can use a toothpaste containing no less than 1000ppm of fluoride. 3-6 years can use 1350-1500ppm fluoride. The fluoride content of toothpaste is found on the back of the toothpaste tube under ingredients.
  • Dental decay is from the frequency of sugars that we have and not the amount. i.e snacks should be limited to once/twice a day. If having fizzy drinks/sweets/chocolate that it should be limited to meals times.
  • Children can now visit the dentist from the age of 6 months and should be registered from the age of one. It’s a great way of introducing your child to the dentist early, asking advice and getting your child settled in a new environment. Find out more

There are lots of fun ways to introduce your child to oral health! Some fun activities are :

  • Sensory
    Cut the bottoms off of large plastic soda bottles and turn them upside down – they look like teeth! You can secure a dozen or so together. Spray them with shaving creme and give the kids toothbrushes to brush the teeth clean.
  • Teeth Collage
    Make a “good food” for their teeth collage out of pictures from magazines. They might even want to hang them on their own refrigerator to remind them which foods are healthy
  • “Eggs”tra Fun Experiment
    One thing you can do when doing dental health is to hard boil an egg ahead of time. Then bring in some dark soda. Place the egg in the soda for a day. Then the next day talk about why we should keep our teeth clean and how we can keep them clean. Then take the egg out. It is discoloured, yellow, looks like plaque. Take a toothbrush with a little tooth paste, and brush it off. It REALLY comes off. The Children love this activity.
  • Activity Sheets
    Community Dental Services have put together a few activity sheets that may keep your little ones entertained during lockdown and will help to start a conversation about teeth and the dentist.

Visiting the dentist may be a little more tricky than normal at the moment but it’s never too early to get ready and start thinking about your next visit!