Preventing tooth decay in young children

Excessive sugar consumption has become one of the most discussed children’s health issues in Britain over recent years. Unnecessary sugar is found lurking in our children’s favourite sweets, soft drinks and cereals, but also in so-called ‘healthy’ snacks, marketed as an agreeable alternative to junk food.

Fruit snacks, yoghurts, raisins and smoothies are all examples of products found to contain astonishing levels of hidden sugar. Sugar has a detrimental effect on our children’s health, so what is the impact on their teeth?

Tooth decay is now the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children. A 10% increase in the last 4 years means that nearly 43,000 cases were reported last year alone. With more children having their teeth removed under general anaesthetic in hospital than ever before, it’s time to consider the potential damage to our own children’s teeth and adjust our behaviours to reduce the impact.

How does sugar cause damage to teeth? When we consume food and drinks that contain sugar, the plaque, that accumulates on everyone’s teeth uses this sugar to feed and multiply and it produces acids. The acids are held against the tooth by the sticky plaque biofilm, and over time, this causes the enamel to become porous and dissolve. When sufficiently weak the surface of the tooth will break down and a cavity is formed. This will now provide an environment for a further increase in plaque accumulation and so the process will continue. The bacteria will also invade the tooth itself. The progress of the cavity into the tooth eventually leads to sensitivity, pain and ultimately, if untreated can cause an abscess.

Simple steps to tackle the issue Our teeth are under assault for around 20 minutes after we eat or drink. Each time we take an additional bite or sip, that 20-minute attack period is reset.

• Cut down on the sugar. • Drink a glass of water after you eat or drink. This can be very effective in rinsing the mouth of any lingering residue and will help to dilute any remaining sugars. • Milk is a friend to teeth. Low in acid, rich in calcium, phosphorus and casein. This winning combination of minerals and proteins work to strengthen teeth and bones and even aid the repair of damaged tooth enamel. • Try using a straw. This directs the liquid to the back of the mouth and limits exposure rather than allowing drinks to bathe the teeth unnecessarily. • Try to avoid brushing teeth within an hour of drinking sugary drinks and juice. This allows the enamel to recover and reharden before we vigorously brush. • Use an age-appropriate fluoride toothpaste and brush teeth twice daily without fail. • Maintain a routine of visiting the dentist every few months. We dentists can spot potential issues before they become larger problems, plus we are able to provide a more thorough clean than you or your children may be able to achieve. • Disclosing tablets are useful in showing up areas you or your children may be missing as part of your dental cleaning routine.

If you have any concerns about the health of your children’s teeth please call us on 020 8958 0136.

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