Children’s Oral Health Part 2 – Sugar

Children's Oral Health

National Smile month runs annually between 13 May and 13 June. It is a high profile Mandatory Public Health campaign at the request of NHS England aiming to raise awareness about the importance of good oral hygiene. Among others, one of the primary focal points is children’s oral health.

The World Health organisation (WHO) states that oral health is not only essential to general health but also quality of life. The Oral Health Foundation is, in fact, a charity dedicated to improving oral health and well-being who also organises National Smile Month.

National Smile Month and the Importance of Children’s Oral Health

There are 3 key messages that are highlighted during National Smile Month:

  1. Brush your teeth last thing at night and on at least one other occasion with a toothpaste containing fluoride
  2. Cut down on how much sugary food and drink you consume and the frequency you consume it
  3. Visit your dentist regularly as often as they recommend it

The campaign encourages thousands of people to raise awareness about oral health and dental care through health professionals, dental teams, pharmacies, libraries, schools, community groups and workplaces. Some of the events include educational activities, fun events and charity fundraising but all focus on improving oral health.

As the name suggests, National Smile Month focuses on the smile. Taking part in this campaign means you are contributing to a healthier and happier world. A smile can have an amazing effect on our own mental health as well as on others.

Children’s Oral Health Guidelines

Good dental hygiene should start as soon as the first tooth appears. Children should use fluoride toothpaste containing 1350 to 1500 parts per million if they are over 3 and not less than 1000 parts per million if they are under 3.

Children under 7 should be supervised and brush their teeth for a minimum of 2 minutes. This can certainly be a challenging time especially with a young child but there are apps to make it more fun. One such app is ‘Brush DJ’ that helps kids enjoy brushing teeth and sees it as a fun activity instead of a chore.

An important reminder for effective children’s oral health is to spit out but not to rinse their mouth after brushing. This includes brushing with water, toothpaste or mouthwashes even if they contain fluoride. For more information, check out the 2-minute challenge!

The Dangers Of Sugar In Oral Health

First off, we have to address the elephant in the room which is the overindulgence of sugary foods and beverages, especially in children. Not only is tooth decay a real concern but so is obesity and it all links back to poor diet and dental care.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay damages teeth that results in fillings or worse, rotten teeth and extractions. Decay occurs when sugar reacts with plaque bacteria which forms acids that attack the teeth and destroy the protective enamel layer. When this happens frequently, the enamel on the teeth may break down and form a hole or a ‘cavity’ into the dentine. At this point, teeth can decay at a rapid pace.

What About ‘No Added Sugar’?

While sugar comes in different forms, all types cause tooth decay including ingredients ending in ‘ose’ like sucrose, fructose and glucose. These can all damage your teeth. Many processed foods also contain sugar and the higher it appears on the ingredients list, the more sugar it typically has. It’s important to always check the ingredients on food labels.

Remember, even if a label states ‘no added sugar’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it is actually sugar free. All this really means is that the manufacturer has not added any extra sugar. In fact, these products may contain some of the sugars mentioned above or sugars listed as ‘carbohydrates’. If you are unsure about the different types of sugars and food choices, ask your dental team for assistance.

Snacks, Sweets And Beverages

Having just your 3 meals per day is better for your teeth than 7-10 snacks but if you do like to nibble throughout the day, choose foods without sugar. While fruit is a favourite option, it does contain acids that can cause dental erosion. However, it is only really a concern if you eat extremely large amounts.

Contrary to what some believe, dried fruit actually contains loads of sugar and you should avoid eating too much of it. If you like eating a fruit snack, try to eat something alkaline afterwards as savoury snacks are usually better. This includes cheese, raw vegetables, nuts and bread sticks.

Still mineral water and milk remain the best beverage choices and only drinking fruit juices at meal times is better for your teeth. If you do drink them between meals, remember to dilute them with water. With that in mind, diluted sugar-free fruit drinks are the best alternative to water and milk. These should be diluted with 1 part fruit drink to 10 parts water. Some beverages contain sweeteners instead of sugar but they are not suitable for young children.

Tips For Healthy Teeth

It’s important to remember that it’s not always the amount of sugar you consume but rather how often. Sweet foods are allowed but should only be at mealtimes though. To help reduce tooth decay in children especially, cut down on the frequency of having sugary foods and drinks, try the sugar-free alternatives.

Whenever you consume anything containing sugar, your teeth are under attack from acid for up to one hour. As mentioned earlier, sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque and produce harmful acids. For that reason, you should only have sugary foods or drinks at mealtimes which limits the amount of teeth and gums are at risk.

A diet rich in vitamins, minerals and fresh fruit and vegetables can seriously help prevent gum disease which can easily lead to tooth loss and bad breath. Sugary foods and drinks can also cause a range of other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and being overweight. Read our previous article on Children’s oral health for important statistics on tooth decay and obesity.

Public Health Campaigns

Each year pharmacies must participate in up to 6 public health campaigns at the request of NHS England. VirtualOutcomes has a training module with ideas for displays to support the campaign. In addition, the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education (CPPE) also produced a module last year on children’s oral health.

Pharmacies in England will be supporting national smile month as one of their 6 mandatory health campaigns in 2019/20. The campaign topics at a national level for this year has been agreed upon so that all community pharmacies can participate in the same campaigns. This will result in much greater exposure to the target groups. Here is an overview of the public health campaigns at the request of NHS England.

VirtualOutcomes Online Training

To support dental health professionals, GP surgeries and pharmacy teams, VitualOutcomes have several online training courses available. We strongly advise all team members to ensure that they remain up to date to provide the best possible healthcare services and advice to the public. VirtualOutcomes training provides helpful, relevant and vital healthcare information on a number of topics. Please contact us to find out more about our courses and how you can register.