Dr Clare Bailey: Start early for pearly whites

As a GP I often come across decaying teeth during a routine examination for a sore throat – and sadly I also see this in children, even as young as three. Dental decay in pre-schoolers has become alarmingly common, with one in eight three-year-olds showing signs of it.

Although it’s encouraging that these numbers are starting to reduce in the younger age group of one to four-year-olds, worryingly it’s the most common reason for hospital admission in children aged five to nine (with more than 26,000 cases in 2018). What’s more, having teeth removed can mean a general anaesthetic, with all the risks attached to that. But 90 per cent of decay is preventable.

Maite Franchi/Folio Art

It’s tempting to assume that milk teeth aren’t important because they will be replaced with adult teeth, so young children are often given sweetened drinks. But sugar has minimal nutritional value, damages their teeth and gives them a taste for sweet things. Plus many children’s snacks masquerade as ‘healthy’, yet contain alarming amounts of sugar.

Children will have 20 milk teeth, which start to come through from around six months. As the outer enamel layer is thin, they are more susceptible to decay if exposed to sugar. Milk teeth are important because they hold the space for the permanent teeth to move into, so problems with these can affect the developing permanent teeth.

Through regular dental visits, good oral hygiene and following appropriate weaning and feeding advice, tooth decay can be avoided, yet only a small proportion of children under one are taken to the dentist. The British Society of Paediatric Dentistry is trying to change that, introducing the Dental check by one campaign, which aims to get children to a check-up before their first birthday.

This will identify and manage any disease early, allows the dentist to monitor children’s dental development and gives children a positive experience from an early age. On a first visit…

  • Your baby can be examined while they’re sitting on your lap. Don’t worry if they won’t open their mouth for the dentist the first time – you can book a return appointment.
  • Your dentist will give you advice on brushing your baby’s teeth. As soon as the first teeth erupt, you should brush them twice daily with a small soft toothbrush and a smear of fluoridated toothpaste containing no less than 1,000ppm fluoride. Children over three can use a family toothpaste containing between 1,350ppm and 1,500ppm fluoride.
  • Don’t allow brushing to become a battle for your child. Start by praising them for putting the toothbrush in their mouth and allowing you to do brief gentle brushing, gradually increasing this over time. make it fun if you can.
  • All NHS dental treatment is free for children under 18 and it’s important to keep up regular visits.

For more information, see dentalcheckbyone.co.uk

Teens & screens: a real problem

Getty Images

Parents of teenagers often worry about whether their time spent on screens is becoming a problem. New research following nearly 4,000 teens aged 12-16 in Canada over four years looked at the number of hours they spent on screens, and whether this was linked to symptoms of depression.

The results show that teenage depression is worse in those using social media and watching lots of TV. Surprisingly, a lack of exercise, other kinds of web browsing and video gaming did not appear to have a link to depression. However, those who spent a lot of time on sites that encouraged them to compare themselves to others were more likely to experience low self-esteem and a spiral of low mood.

While these findings may not be wholly unexpected, they do give us more information to be able to identify early on whether your teen is vulnerable to depression. And this, crucially, means you have more time to intervene. seek advice from your doctor if you have any concerns about your child’s screen habits.

If you have a question you would like answered, email drclarebailey@you.co.uk