30 September 2014

The first national survey examining the oral health of three year old children has revealed more than one in 10 have signs of visible tooth decay.

The report, published by Public Health England (PHE), has shown 12 per cent of children examined in their nursery, children's centre or playgroup suffered from tooth decay, with those children having an average of three decayed teeth.

The number of children suffering from tooth decay varied significantly by region, varying from as little as two per cent to more than one in three (34 per cent) across the country.

It was a similar story last year when it was revealed more than one in four (27 per cent) of five year old children suffered from visible tooth decay, a fall from the previous figure of three in ten (31 per cent) in 2008. Once again levels of decay varied regionally from one in five (21.2 per cent) to more than one in three (34.8 per cent).

Children smilingChief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, welcomed the first survey of its kind, and encourages parents and education workers to take on vital oral health information.

Dr Carter said: "It is the first time we have seen the progress of oral health development from birth through to starting school, and the overall results are encouraging.

"Almost nine in ten three year olds are getting the right oral health routine at a crucial age of their development. Diet is a constant theme when discussing health issues in the UK, and the results suggest parents understand that dried fruit and fruit juices are not good for their baby's oral health.

"The stark regional inequalities are a cause for concern. They highlight a clear need for water fluoridation to help tackle these differences, particularly in the more deprived areas of the country. The addition of fluoride in toothpaste alone has been responsible for reducing decay by up to 50 per cent. Levels of dental decay have fallen in both fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas in the UK with the greatest reductions seen in fluoridated areas, yet only 12 per cent of the population have fluoridated water.

"Parents and education workers need to be fully aware of how they can help to reduce the chances of children developing tooth decay. The most important message to remember is it is not the amount of sugar children eat or drink that causes tooth decay, but how often they have sugary foods and drinks. Sugar causes the bacteria in plaque to produce acids. It is these acids which attack children's tooth enamel and cause tooth decay.

"When the first teeth start to come through, try using a children's toothbrush with a small smear of toothpaste. All children up to three years old should use a toothpaste with a fluoride level of at least 1000ppm (parts per million). After the age of three, children should use a toothpaste that contains 1350ppm-1500ppm. Encourage them to spit out the toothpaste and not to swallow any if possible, if they do not rinse after spitting the fluoride will remain in the mouth for longer and give the best protection against decay. It is important to supervise your child's brushing until they are at least seven, and encourage them to brush last thing at night and on at least one other occasion. It may sound a simple solution, but tooth decay is entirely preventable. By following these messages, collectively we can reduce the current level of tooth decay in children and herald better oral health for the future.

To keep children's teeth healthy, PHE's report recommends:

  • Reduce both the amount and how often sugary foods and drinks are given to children,
  • Not add sugar to weaning foods or drinks,
  • Aim to introduce drinking from a free-flow cup from six months of age and stop feeding from a bottle from 12 months of age,
  • Start brushing children's teeth as soon as the first tooth appears and supervise their tooth brushing until they are seven or eight years old. Brush children's teeth twice daily, including just before bed, using a fluoride toothpaste,
  • From the age of three, use only a pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, for younger children a smear,
  • Use only sugar-free medicines.