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Healthy teeth and good oral hygiene habits are important at all ages, but especially for kids whose teeth and jaws are rapidly developing and more vulnerable to damage.
Strong and healthy teeth allow children to eat a full range of foods so they can get the nutrition they need for growth and development.
Since oral health is linked to overall health, looking after your child’s teeth and gums at home and with help from children’s dentists can also help to lower their risks for other health concerns throughout their lives.
To get an idea of the oral health risks that can impact your child, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) and Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC) have published Australia’s Oral Health Tracker. This regularly updated report tracks the most prominent oral health issues for children and teenagers and sets targets for improvement.
Following are the most urgent messages from the latest Children and Young People report 2018 and advice about how to lower your own child’s risks.
1. Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in childhood
Tooth decay is the breakdown of tooth enamel caused when bacteria in the mouth mixes with sugars in food and drinks. This harmful combination turns into acid that causes cavities in teeth.
With most children and teenagers consuming more than the daily recommended amount of sugar, and children’s teeth enamel being thinner and more easily damaged, tooth decay has the chance to progress more rapidly in young people than in adults.
How prevalent is tooth decay among Australian children and teenagers? According to the survey:
- More than one third (34.3%) of Australian children have experienced tooth decay in their primary (baby) teeth by as early as age 5 to 6.
- More worryingly, more than a quarter (27.1%) of kids aged 5 to 10 have untreated decay in their primary teeth.
Even though baby teeth will be replaced eventually, your child’s first teeth are vital for helping them to eat and speak normally and for marketing the position for permanent teeth to come through. It’s not only baby teeth that are at high risk either, with the survey also finding that:
- Almost a quarter (23.5%) of kids and teens aged 6 to 14 have experienced decay in their permanent (adult) teeth.
- 9% of this age group have untreated tooth decay in their permanent teeth.
Tooth decay that has already started to wear down teeth or form cavities will need treatment such as a white filling to repair before the tooth becomes too damaged to save.
Children’s tooth decay risks may be lowered by improving their oral hygiene every day and by having fissure sealants placed in uneven or pitted teeth surfaces.
2. Most children and teenagers consume too much sugar
Sugar is a valuable fuel source for growing and active kids, but too much of a good thing is dangerous, and this is the case for most young people in Australia.
Based on daily recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO), 70.3% of children aged 9–13 and 73.1% of teenagers aged 14–18 consume too much sugar in their diet.
Excess sugar contributes to tooth decay and other oral health problems, as well as weight gain and associated health risks. Cutting down on sugar and making healthy swaps for snacks and drinks is one of the most effective ways to lower kids’ oral health risks.
Parents who want to reduce their child’s sugar consumption should avoid buying soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit juices and cordials, as these can be even worse offenders than confectionery.
You should also check nutritional labels carefully to identify ‘hidden sugars’ that may be listed under different names, including dextrose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup and many more.
3. Not enough children brush their teeth properly
As well as cutting down on sugar, tooth brushing is one of the most effective ways to prevent tooth decay by removing plaque and leftover sugars from tooth surfaces.
To keep plaque levels to a minimum, dentists recommend that most people brush at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste. According to the latest Children and Young People oral health report, only 68.5% of kids and teens aged 5 to 14 follow this recommendation.
Toothbrushing should begin as soon as a child gets their first tooth. Young children need help properly brushing until they are able to control the brush themselves, usually around the age of 8 or 9.
It’s also important to use a child-sized toothbrush and floss around children’s teeth once a day to clean the areas their toothbrush can’t reach.
4. Not enough children have regular dental check-ups
Children should start to see a dentist for a regular check-up and clean around the time of their first birthday, or within 6 months of their first teeth erupting. However, according to survey respondents, only around half (55%) of children visited a dentist before the age of 5.
Regular check-ups improve the chance of problems being caught and treated before they can cause serious damage to kids’ oral health. Professional teeth cleaning and fluoride treatments provided by hygienists can also reduce plaque levels and help prevent tooth decay.
5. Poor oral health in childhood is the strongest predictor of further dental disease in adulthood
Neglecting oral health in childhood and adolescence doesn’t only mean dealing with toothaches and other problems at an early age. Research shows that it can have long term effects, with people being more likely to suffer from tooth decay, gum disease and associated health risks throughout their lives.
The good news is that the reverse can also be true, with good oral hygiene habits in childhood improving the chances of good oral health in later life. Kids who are encouraged to visit the dentist for regular check-ups from an early age are less likely to avoid dental visits or experience dental anxiety when they grow up.
See a family dentist in Kelmscott and Armadale
If you’re looking for a children’s dentist near you, our friendly team at Kelmscott Dental provide check-ups and treatments in a caring and positive environment.