Mistakes parents make that cost their kids their teeth

Heather Stephen

You think you’re giving your child all the right foods so why are their teeth full of decay? Dentist Nina Bal explains how ‘healthy snacks’ are rotting our children’s teeth and why it matters later in life.

Those shiny food pouches are tempting aren’t they when you’ve got little ones? No mess, no added sugar, and all organic. What about a tub of raisins and apples? That’s got to be good. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, quite a lot, according to cosmetic dental surgeon Dr Nina Bal. She says she’s seen an alarming number of young children coming to her surgery with a mouth full of rotting teeth, even with the best of diets.

Tooth decay is often associated with bad diets and areas of deprivation and a report released last year by the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed children in lower socio-economic areas had five time the rate of extractions than their richer counterparts. In total more than 128,000 children under the age of ten had at least one tooth removed between 2010 and 2014, and hospital admissions for extractions were 10% higher than the previous reporting period.

But Dr Bal who works in one of London’s more salubrious areas, South Kensington, says the affluent are not immune.

“I am shocked by the number of extractions I have had to do of children’s teeth,” she confides. “Once I had to extract four teeth from a nine-year-old. It was very distressing for him and probably traumatised him about going to the dentist again.”

She believes parents are making a fundamental mistake: they think they are all doing all they can to prevent tooth decay if they restrict their child’s intake of sweets and biscuits, and that a diet of healthier foods means they don’t have to worry too much about dental hygiene. But nothing could be further from the truth.

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“Some of these parents come in and their children’s teeth are completely rotten,” she says.  “They tell me ‘I can’t understand it – my child doesn’t eat junk he only has organic fruit pouches,’ but that organic fruit is still full of sugar and will damage their teeth if they don’t look after them properly.”

And, she warns, there can be long term consequences.

So what, according to Dr Bal, are the most common errors we make when caring for our youngsters’ oral hygiene and what we should do to make the most of those pearly whites?

1. No no: Healthy snacks and drinks with hidden sugar

“People think raisins are a healthy option but they will stick to the teeth and turn to bacteria unless you brush within 30 minutes,” she says. “It is better to eat sweets and lollies if you eat them in one sitting and brush after than to nibble on dried fruit all day,” she says.

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“Juice is often offered to children but the fruit sugars and acids erode the enamel. The best thing for teeth is milk or water but if you give other drinks brush straight after.”

“Children should get enough nutrients from three good meals a day but if you have to give snacks carrot sticks are a good option as they naturally clean the teeth and cubes of cheese have the calcium children need.

2. No no: Skipping dental hygiene

“Parents have admitted they don’t always brush children’s teeth before school but as food deposits take 12 hours for bacteria to colonise and cause decay it is important not to miss a session.”

Dr Bal recommends supervising children up to the age of eight or nine when brushing teeth, making sure all surfaces are covered, including the back teeth which are often missed.

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“Brushing for two minutes is advised which children think is a really long time but use a timer and make it fun to keep them on track.

“It is never too soon to start flossing and using interdental brushes to catch all the tartar in between the teeth. And thoroughly cleaning the teeth twice a day will remove the bacteria and plaque which cause decay and gum inflammation.”

3. No no: Brushing too hard

“Over vigorous brushing is a big problem for gum recession so you should be very careful when brushing your child’s teeth, ” she says.

“I recommend a soft manual toothbrush, rather than an electric model, to avoid being too aggressive on the gums as when the gum is gone it isn’t going to grow back.”

Brushing should start as soon as the first tooth appears.

4. No no: Missing your child’s dental check

Take your child for a dental check as soon as the teeth start coming through as this will get them used to the dentist at an early age.

Dr Bal advises visiting the dentist every six months to pick up on any problems and she recommends having the teeth cleaned to remove built up plaque.

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Milk teeth matter

People may say ‘it’s only baby teeth, it doesn’t matter’, but Dr Bal warns there can be long term consequences from poor dental hygiene in the early years.

“You might think milk teeth are not such an issue but decay can travel through to the adult teeth, and if milk teeth are removed too early the [remaining] milk teeth will close the gap and your child may need major orthodontic work which is painful and traumatic.”

Not to mention the pain in your hip pocket.

Preservation

When the adult teeth come through Dr Bal recommends asking your dentist for sealant where a resin is applied to the biting surfaces.

“This coats the deep grooves which are most affected by decay and should be done as soon as the permanent teeth appear.

“I charge £180 a tooth and suggest children have the first four molars treated with fissure sealant at age 6 or 7, followed by the second four molars at age 10 to 12.”

 

The take home messages:

  1. Do not be fooled by packaging that says ‘no added sugar’ . Food and drink – irrespective of whether it’s organic or not, with or without added sugar, homemade or bought – contain acids and sugars that will decay teeth if they aren’t brushed.
  2. Supervised brushing for 2 minutes twice a day is a must for your child’s teeth.
  3. Milk teeth matter – there can be long-term consequences of dental decay in first teeth.