In this months blog we wanted to share some of our top tips to help keep children’s teeth and smiles happy!
It’s so important to look after children’s teeth as soon as they break through. Children’s first teeth (milk teeth) start to appear from around six months of age, however, it can be earlier or later too. Children usually have around 20 milk teeth by the age of three and these teeth are important to ensure there is space for their adult teeth to come through. If children’s milk teeth experience decay before their first adult teeth appear, it can impact on their smile and speech, as well as causing possible pain and infection. All adult teeth are usually in place by around the age of 13 years.
What is tooth decay?
Dental caries, also known as tooth decay, occurs when acids formed by bacteria in dental plaque metabolise dietary sugar and damage the hard tooth structure. Plaque is a natural film of bacteria that forms on teeth, gums and crowns, and reforms minutes even after brushing. Because the enamel is thin, milk teeth are more likely to be affected by decay and erosion if exposed to too much sugar or acidic drinks. Repeated and prolonged acid attacks will eventually cause the tooth surface to weaken and a hole or cavity will form which may lead to pain and infection.
Up to 90% of tooth decay can be prevented by reducing the amount of sugar in the diet, regular tooth brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and routine visits to the dentist. The main cause of tooth decay is not the amount of sugar or acid in the diet, but how often sugary food and drinks are eaten or drunk. To reduce children’s risk of decay, it’s important to reduce the amount of time their teeth are exposed to sugary foods and drinks. However, the average five year old is currently consuming their own weight in sugar each year.
Tooth decay is largely preventable however, we are still seeing high rates of dental caries across the country. The 2014-15 oral health survey of five year olds reported that around 1 in 4 five year olds suffer from tooth decay and on average, these children had three or four affected teeth.
Early Start Nutrition’s Top Tips
The link between dental decay and the consumption of foods and drinks high in sugar is well understood. To reduce children’s risk of decay, it’s important to reduce the amount of time their teeth are exposed to sugary foods and drinks.
- Offer water and milk as these are the only tooth friendly drinks. It’s best practice to only offer these drinks in your early years setting
- Avoid serving sugary drinks such as fizzy drinks, juice drinks and squash as these can cause tooth decay
- While 100% pure fruit juice and fruit based smoothies count towards one portion of the 5 a day recommendation, we receive limit nutrients from juice alone. Therefore children and adults should have no more than one 150ml glass a day. If families choose to offer their children under 5 fruit juice it’s good practice to dilute it with water- 1 part juice with 10 parts water. It’s also best to offered diluted fruit juice in a cup rather than a bottle as sucking slowly on sweet drinks increases the risk of tooth decay
- For children who are bottle fed, it’s best to only offer milk and water in the bottle. From six months of age, around the time they’re introduced to solid foods, an open-topped or free-flow cup should be introduced.
- Expressed breast milk and formula milk can be offered in a bottle up until the age of one yer. However, by 12 months families should move towards stopping the bottle altogether. Babies should be drinking from an open or free-flow cup – this helps them learn to sip rather than suck drinks (which is better for their teeth!)
- Try to reduce the frequency that children have foods and drinks that contain free sugars and limit sugary foods and drinks to mealtimes. This will help reduce the amount of time their teeth come under attack
- Avoid offering children sugary foods and drinks at bedtime
- Limit snacks as this helps reduce the production of acid in children’s mouths. Children should be offered three main meals and two- three healthy snacks a day
- Some foods are naturally high in sugar and acids, such as dried fruit, which can damage children’s teeth. It’s best to offer these foods as part of a meal, for example raisins with yoghurt as a pudding
- Be mindful that sugar is often added to foods we don’t expect to be high in sugar. For example flavoured water, fruit tinned in syrup, some breakfast cereals, ready- made sauces such as pasta sauce, marinades and condiments such as ketchup.
How to promote good oral health in your setting
Display Boards- create an eye-catching display to promote the importance of good oral health for children and adults and top tips to help keep teeth healthy.
The following resources will help you create you show- stopping display board
- National Smile Month has lots of useful information that can support you in promoting key oral health messages to families http://www.nationalsmilemonth.org/
- First Steps Nutrition have produced a new snacks resource with lots of ideas for tooth friendly snacks https://www.firststepsnutrition.org/eating-well-early-years
- Change4Life’s Be Food Smart App is free for families to download and helps them to make healthier food choices by cutting down on sugar https://www.nhs.uk/change4life/food-facts/sugar
By Edwina Revel