The results of a new PHE survey published today (September 30) blamed widespread tooth decay of three year-olds in England on the overconsumption of sugary foods and drinks. The first national survey of the oral health of the tots estimated the prevalence of tooth decay at anywhere between 2% to 34% across the country. On average 12% of the youngsters had some form of tooth decay.
But director general of the British Soft Drinks Federation Gavin Partington said good oral hygiene as the single most important factor in maintaining good dental health.
‘Reduce the risk of dental decay’
“That’s why experts advise parents to show their children how to brush their teeth with a fluoride toothpaste, twice a day and have regular visits to the dentist as this will reduce the risk of dental decay considerably,” said Partington.
“For small children, we also support dentists’ advice to use a straw, not to put soft drinks or fruit juices in baby bottles or soothers and to avoid giving them to children at bedtime, after they have cleaned their teeth.”
PHE confirmed that 88% of children in the age group had no decay at all. It attributed the improvement to significant improvements in dental health since the introduction of fluoride toothpaste in 1976.
‘Tooth decay in permanent adult teeth’
But it warned: “Unless this lifestyle issue [too much sugar in children’s food and drinks] is addressed, there is a much higher risk of further tooth decay in permanent adult teeth and throughout later life.” That can be prevented by eating a healthy balanced diet, which limits the amount of foods and drinks high in sugar, and also by brushing teeth for two minutes twice a day, once before bed, using fluoride toothpaste. See more PHE guidance below.
The survey will form a baseline from which PHE can measure progress on curbing tooth decay and to target resources to help local authorities tackle tooth decay in children.
Director of dental public health at PHE Dr Sandra White acknowledged progress but highlighted the need for more action. “Tooth decay is an entirely preventable disease, which can be very painful and even result in a child having teeth removed under general anaesthetic, which is stressful for children and parents alike,” said White.
“Thankfully, tooth decay in children can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle; by parents and carers reducing the amount of sugary foods and drinks they give their children and supporting them to brush their teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, especially just before bedtime.”
PHE advice to parents and carers
• Reduce both the amount and how often sugary foods and drinks are given to children
• Don’t add sugar to weaning foods or drinks
• Introduce drinking from a free-flow cup from six months and stop feeding from a bottle from 12 months
• Brushing children’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears and supervise brushing until they are seven or eight.
• Brush children’s teeth twice daily, including just before bed, using a fluoride toothpaste
• For three year-olds use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and for younger children a smear
•Use only sugar-free medicines