Tooth Decay is a Leading Cause of Concern for Children in the UK

An X-ray of a tooth showing tooth decay - Jonathan Borba

Tooth decay is a problem particularly acute among children from deprived backgrounds, who are more likely to experience tooth decay due to poor oral hygiene, unhealthy diets, and limited access to dental care. The good news is that it is totally preventable with good oral hygiene habits, a healthy diet, and regular dental checkups. Below we share tips to help you stay on top of your child’s oral health. By taking steps to care for their child’s oral health, parents can help prevent this common yet preventable issue and protect their child’s overall well-being.

What exactly is tooth decay?

Tooth decay, also known as dental caries, is a common dental problem that affects people of all ages. It is a result of a combination of factors, including bacteria, acid, and a sugary or starchy diet. When these factors come together, they can cause the tooth’s hard outer layer, called enamel, to break down, leading to the formation of cavities.

The process of tooth decay begins when bacteria in the mouth produce acid as they break down the sugars and starches in the food we eat. This acid, combined with the saliva and food particles, forms a sticky film on the teeth called plaque. Over time, the acid in the plaque can wear away the enamel, creating small holes or pits in the tooth.

If left untreated, the decay can progress deeper into the tooth, affecting the softer inner layer of the tooth called dentin. This can cause sensitivity and pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods. If the decay reaches the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels, it can lead to an infection or abscess, requiring more extensive treatment such as root canal therapy or even tooth extraction.

What does the research say

As one of the more serious dental problem that affects millions of people worldwide, including a significant number of children. In the UK, it remains the leading cause of hospital admissions for children, with over 160,000 cases reported between 2013 and 2019. These statistics highlight the urgent need for better education, awareness, and preventive measures to protect children’s oral health and reduce the burden on the healthcare system.

Here are three tips to help prevent tooth decay in children

  1. Encourage good oral hygiene habits: It’s essential to encourage children to brush their teeth twice a day and floss once a day. For younger children, you may need to help them with brushing and flossing until they can do it themselves. Make sure they use fluoride toothpaste to strengthen their tooth enamel and remove plaque.
  2. Limit sugary and acidic foods and drinks: Sugary and acidic foods and drinks can erode tooth enamel and promote the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay. Encourage children to drink plenty of water and limit sugary and acidic drinks such as fruit juice and soda. Instead, offer them healthier options such as milk and fresh fruits.
  3. Regular dental checkups: Regular dental checkups are crucial for preventing tooth decay and identifying any problems early on. The dentist can remove plaque and tartar buildup, apply fluoride treatments, and provide advice on how to maintain good oral health at home. It’s recommended that children have their first dental checkup by the age of one and then every six months to a year thereafter.

By following these tips, you can help your child maintain good oral health and prevent tooth decay. Remember, prevention is always better than treatment, and early intervention is key to maintaining a healthy smile for life.