National Smile Month And Children’s Oral Health

national smile month

National Smile Month is the UK’s biggest and longest running oral health campaign which takes place annually between 13 May and 13 June. This campaign is aimed at dental and healthcare professionals, schools, pharmacies, community groups, colleges and workplaces to educate, motivate and communicate good oral healthcare.

Previously known as “National Smile Week”, this has become one of the largest non-profit dental health events in Europe. In fact, National Smile Month attracts thousands of event companies and reaches millions of people spreading positive oral health information. While the campaign primarily focuses on the importance of a healthy mouth, it also tackles the reduction in quantity and frequency of consuming sugar.

Not only does excessive sugar intake affect dental health but it also relates to obesity in children. To give pharmacy teams the ability and knowledge to help their communities, VirtualOutcomes have compiled a short but detailed training module on obesity which you can access through our website.

Most oral diseases and NCDs share certain risk factors including tobacco use, alcohol consumption and unhealthy diets high in free sugars. These are common to the four leading   non-communicable disease (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.

Vital Oral Health Statistics

Oral health is indicative of overall well-being, health and general quality of life. The WHO defines oral health as “a state of being free from chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral infection and sores, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that limit an individual’s capacity in biting, chewing, smiling, speaking, and psycho-social well-being.”

From a global perspective, oral diseases are the most common non-communicable disease (NCDs) which affects people throughout their entire lives. Not only does it cause pain and discomfort but it can also lead to disfigurement and even death.

In 2016, it was estimated that oral health diseases affected half of the world’s population with tooth decay in permanent teeth being the most prevalent condition. Oral health inequalities exist among and between different population groups around the world and throughout their entire lives.

Further reports state that diabetes mellitus is linked with the development and progression of periodontitis. There also seems to be a causal link between high sugar consumption and diabetes, obesity and dental health issues. For more crucial statistics on oral health, take a look at the fact sheet from WHO.

Oral Health And Tooth Decay

Poor oral health has a massive effect on children and families’ well-being and is also very expensive to treat. In many cases, poor oral health involves much wider social care issues including poor nutrition, obesity, the need for parenting support and in safeguarding and neglect.

Data from Public Health England shows that in 2015, a quarter of 5 years olds in the UK experienced tooth decay. They had an average of three to four affected teeth where the majority of tooth decay in children under 6 was left untreated. The most common reason for hospital admissions for children aged 5 to 9 in 2015/2016 was, in fact, tooth extraction.

The Effects Of Poor Oral Health

There is no denying that tooth decay has significant financial and emotional implications. Dental treatment has significant cost implications as the NHS in England spends approximately £3.4 billion per year people of all ages in primary and secondary dental care.

Furthermore, there is an estimated additional £2.3 billion spent on private dental care. The average cost of a tooth extraction in hospital costs the NHS over £800. In 2015/2016, 50.5 million pounds was spent on tooth extractions for under 19’s and 7.8 million on children under 5 years of age.

Looking at the emotional implications, tooth decay can cause pain, discomfort and loss of sleep which all effect a child’s readiness for school. In some cases, it may even lead to absenteeism thus affecting their performance at school. In addition, parents and child carers will also need to take time off work to care for the child and take them to the dentist.

All children are at risk but their likelihood increases as they consume more sugar. The fact is, we can prevent tooth decay in 90% of children if they clean their teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.

What You Need To Know About Tooth Decay

Teeth have a hard outer layer called enamel and a second layer known as dentine. In the middle of the dentine you will find the dental pulp consisting of blood vessels, connective tissue and nerves making it the most sensitive part of the tooth.

The build-up of bacteria on the outer surface of the teeth causes plaque which we can remove with regular brushing. Bacteria break down sugar from food and drink which results in the formation of acid that essentially dissolves the surface of the tooth. Here, the enamel weakens causing calcium and phosphate loss through a process called demineralisation. While this is normal, saliva in the mouth can counteract this which helps neutralise the acid and aid remineralisation.

However, if people frequently consume sugary foods and drinks between meals for example, the process doesn’t have enough time to work effectively. This results in the aforementioned weakening enamel which is not painful in itself but the deeper the decay goes, the more pain will follow. Once it reaches the pulp layer, you will experience extreme pain and discomfort. Here are some interesting common FAQ on dental health.

Sugar, Tooth Decay And Obesity

The amount and frequency of sugary foods and drinks only exacerbates the problem especially at bedtime. Healthcare professionals should provide parents and carers with more information about how to effectively manage this common occurrence. This is exactly why National Smile Month is such an important event on the annual calendar especially when pharmacy teams combine it with VirtualOutcomes online training.

According to a Public Health England report from June 2018, children consume more than a years’ worth of sugar in 6 months. That is a staggering amount of sugars all contributing toward premature tooth decay and obesity.

While sugary foods and drinks remain one of the main culprits, people often exclude the naturally occurring sugar in whole fresh fruit and vegetables as well as those in milk and milk products. However, everything should be consumed in moderation regardless of the nutritional value.

Dietary Recommendations

The general recommendation is that 4-6 year olds should have no more than 5 sugar cubes a day. This number increases to 7 cubes or 30 g for those 11 and over. It really isn’t a lot of daily sugar allowance considering a single 330 ml can of a fizzy drink can contain as much as 35 g of sugar. One fizzy drink can easily take a child way over the recommended daily amount. Certainly not something to forget during the National Smile Month campaign!

While fruit juices, fruit smoothies, honey and some breakfast cereals may seem like the ‘healthier’ option, they’re are all very high in sugar. All healthcare practitioners should help the community better understand the effects of a poor diet and what to replace sugary foods and drinks with. From the onset, always look for sugar swaps including water, lower fat plain milk or drinks with no added sugar. Parents should swap snacks filled with sugar for fruit, fruit teacakes or bagels with lower fat spread.

National Smile Month Campaign Focus

Not only does National Smile Month focus on dental health but also on the fact that a smile can increase a person’s sense of wellbeing.

Whilst the focus in National Smile Month is to remind people about their oral health by focusing on reducing the amount and frequency of sugar being consumed daily it also highlights the fact that obesity in young people has become a serious concern. A  third of children leaving primary school are overweight or obese. It is an unfortunate fact that children above a healthy weight are more likely to remain overweight as adults. This increases their risk of preventable health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even some cancers.

Among several other online modules, we have compiled training on obesity which talks about healthy well balanced diets. We strongly advise all team members to remain up to date to provide the best possible healthcare services and advice to the public. Contact us to find out more about our courses and how you can register.