“Tooth decay affects 12% of three-year-olds, says survey,” BBC News
reports. The survey, carried out by Public Health England, found big
variations in different parts of the country. Experts believe sugary
drinks are to blame for this trend.
The survey looked at the prevalence and severity of tooth decay in
three-year-old children in 2013. This is the first time the dental
health of this age group has been surveyed nationally. It found 12% of
children surveyed had tooth decay – more than one in eight children.
Tooth decay (also
known as dental decay or dental caries) occurs when a sticky acidic
film called plaque builds up on the teeth and begins to break down the
tooth’s surface. A diet high in sugar can help stimulate the production
As it progresses, tooth decay can cause an infection of underlying gum tissue. This type of infection is known as a dental abscess and can be extremely painful.
Who produced the children’s dental health report?
The survey and subsequent report was produced by Public Health England (PHE),
part of the Department of Health. PHE’s role is to protect and improve
the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities.
This survey of the prevalence and severity of tooth decay in
three-year-olds was performed to help identify which age group
interventions to improve tooth decay should be aimed at.
What data did the report look at?
The report looked at the prevalence and severity of dental decay in
three-year-old children in 2013. At three years of age most children
have all 20 milk teeth (also known as primary teeth).
PHE randomly sampled children attending private and state-funded
nurseries, as well as nursery classes attached to schools and
playgroups. The children’s teeth were examined to see if they had
missing teeth, filled teeth or obvious signs of tooth decay.
What were the main findings of the report?
Of the 53,814 children included in the survey, 12% had dental decay.
Of the children with dental decay, on average these children had at
least three teeth that were decayed, missing or filled.
Across all the children included in the survey, the average number of decayed, missing or filled teeth was 0.36 per child.
The report found a wide variation in the levels of decay experienced
by three-year-old children living in different parts of the country. The
four regions with the most dental decay were:
- the East Midlands
- the north west
- Yorkshire and the Humber
What are the implications of the report?
Where there are high levels of tooth decay among three-year-olds,
Public Health England wants earlier interventions to target this younger
age group, rather than waiting until the age of five (when these
interventions usually take place).
Where there are high levels of tooth decay found in the primary
incisors (a condition known as early childhood caries), PHE wants local
organisations to tackle problems related to infant feeding practices.
Early childhood caries are associated with young children being given
sugar-sweetened drinks in a bottle – especially when these are given
overnight or for long periods of the day.
Where tooth decay levels increase sharply between the ages of three
and five, PHE wants local organisations to tackle this by helping
parents reduce the amount and frequency of sugary food and drinks their
children have, as well as increasing the availability of fluoride.
Is fluoride safe?
There has been concern from some quarters that fluoride may be linked to a variety of health conditions.
Reviews of the risks have found no evidence to support these
concerns, and the general consensus is that both fluoride toothpaste and
water that contains the correct amount of fluoride have a significant
benefit in reducing tooth decay.
Dental fluorosis (which can discolour teeth) can occur if a child’s
teeth are exposed to too much fluoride when they’re developing. This is
unlikely to cause problems for your child.
There are two important steps you can take to protect your children’s teeth against tooth decay:
- limit their consumption of sugar, especially sugary drinks
- make sure they brush their teeth at least twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste
Sugar causes tooth decay. Children who eat sweets every day have
nearly twice as much decay as children who eat sweets less often.
This is caused not only by the amount of sugar in sweet food and
drinks, but by how often the teeth are in contact with the sugar. This
means sweet drinks in a bottle or feeder cup and lollipops are
particularly damaging because they bathe the teeth in sugar for long
periods of time. Acidic drinks such as fruit juice and squash can harm
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a fruit juice advertised as
“organic”, “natural” or with “no added sugar” is inherently healthy. A
standard 330ml carton of orange juice can contain almost as much sugar
(30.4g) as a can of coke (around 39g).
As Dr Sandra White, director of dental public health at PHE, points
out: “Posh sugar is no better than any other sugar … our key advice for
[children] under three is to just have water and milk.”
A regular teeth cleaning routine is essential for good dental health.
Follow these tips and you can help keep your kids’ teeth decay free:
- Start brushing your baby’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste as
soon as the first milk tooth breaks through (usually at around six
months, but it can be earlier or later). It’s important to use a
fluoride paste as this helps prevent and control tooth decay.
- Children under the age of three can use a smear of family
toothpaste containing at least 1,000ppm (parts per million) fluoride.
Toothpaste with less fluoride is not as effective at preventing decay.
- Children between the ages of three and six should use a
pea-sized blob of toothpaste containing 1,350 to 1,500ppm fluoride.
Check the toothpaste packet for this information or ask your dentist.
- Make sure your child doesn’t eat or lick the toothpaste from the tube.
- Brush your child’s teeth for at least two minutes twice a day,
once just before bedtime and at least one other time during the day.
- Encourage them to spit out excess toothpaste, but not to rinse
with lots of water. Rinsing with water after tooth brushing will wash
away the fluoride and reduce its benefits.
- Supervise tooth brushing until your child is seven or eight
years old, either by brushing their teeth yourself or, if they brush
their own teeth, by watching how they do it. From the age of seven or
eight they should be able to brush their own teeth, but it’s still a
good idea to watch them now and again to make sure they brush properly
and for the whole two minutes.
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