Oral health matters: why good childhood dental habits are so important

Published by Bupa guest author

22 March 2019 . United Kingdom

Written by Steve Preddy, Clinical Director and dentist for Bupa Dental Care

Poor dental health, including tooth decay and gum disease, can impact a person’s general health and wellbeing and even has a link to heart disease and diabetes. The leading causes of dental diseases are entirely preventable, so it’s hugely worrying to see recent statistics on the number of children having tooth extractions due to tooth decay.

Children's oral health

The latest figures from Public Health England show almost nine out of 10 hospital tooth extractions among children under the age of five are due to tooth decay – which is entirely preventable. While tooth extraction is still the most common hospital procedure in six to 10 years, with at least 60,000 days being missed from school during the year for hospital extractions.

Meanwhile, figures released by the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) show six in 10 children (58%) aged one to four did not see a dentist in 2018, while 41% of children under 17 years old didn’t attend an appointment.

The College has called for supervised tooth brushing sessions to be introduced in nurseries and primary schools across England, as similar initiatives in Scotland and Wales have already been successful in improving children’s oral health.

Children’s oral health is so important, and we share the RCS’ desire to see more supervised tooth brushing sessions taking place in nurseries and primary schools. World Oral Health Day this week seems to me a great time to raise awareness and encourage prevention.

Many parents don’t realise that children should begin seeing their dentist as soon as their first teeth start coming through. By doing so dentists can not only spot any early warning signs, but also ensure that children grow up feeling comfortable with and used to regular visits, promoting long-term good oral health.

Our dental practices across the UK are working at a local level to engage children, with dental nurses, hygienists and dentists regularly visiting local schools and nurseries. During these sessions they teach children how to take care of their teeth, how different foods can impact their oral health, and how to limit sugar consumption.

In addition to the work carried out by practices locally, Bupa Dental Care is also involved in the Smile4life campaign – an NHS initiative to improve access to dental health provision. A key part of Smile4life is the Starting Well scheme, which aims to encourage young children in areas with the poorest oral health to visit their local surgery more frequently.

The leading causes for dental diseases – such as diet and poor oral care – are entirely preventable so there is a real need to improve and encourage preventative measures, including promoting children’s oral health. While we are seeing a step in the right direction in raising awareness of the importance of child and adult oral health more still needs to be done. We hope that by working together with the government and schools we can continue to improve awareness and encourage better oral health habits from childhood through to adulthood.

Bupa guest author