Did you see the documentary Our Kids’ Rotten Teeth on ITV recently?
If you don’t want to watch a programme which featured some quite disturbing footage of children’s teeth being extracted but do want to know more about the growing problem of tooth decay among kids then read on…
The documentary first presented the facts about the state of the nation’s children’s teeth.
- A third of British children have experienced tooth decay by the time they have started primary school
- In 2011, more than 36,000 hospital operations took place which involved removing decayed teeth from children under the age of 17
- The number mentioned above has continued to rise over the last decade
The viewer then met some of the children behind the stats; the four-year-old girl who had to have 14 of her 20 teeth removed; the boy of the same age who experienced such pain from his 11 decayed teeth that he ended up punching himself in the face.
Then there was the six-year-old girl called Holly who had 11 teeth extracted under anaesthetic. Holly’s first request when she came round from the procedure said much about why she suffered tooth decay in the first place – she cried out for a lollipop.
Her craving for sugary snacks seems to be fairly typical as the UK’s sugar consumption is thought to have tripled over the past 50 years. Holly’s mother explained that her child was “pretty good” at eating fruit and vegetables but often wants, and is given, a sugary snack as a reward for her healthy eating.
Presenter Fiona Foster made sympathetic faces as Holly’s mother told her this and you just longed for someone to step in and shake some sense into mother and daughter.
But it was hard not to feel some sympathy for Holly as a nutritionist was hired to teach her mum how to make sugar-free tomato sauce to serve to her daughter in place of the unhealthy tomato ketchup she bought at the supermarket. The result – a gloopy mess which looked more like Lentil soup – understandably did not get the thumbs-up. And things looked bad when Holly threw a tearful tantrum at learning that she had to cut out all sugar from her diet for a week-long experiment.
Amazingly, the new diet seemed to work with Holly’s dentist noting a good improvement in the condition of her remaining teeth after just seven days of healthy eating.
However, not all children can show Holly’s willpower and not all kids enjoy adequate access to a dentist. The documentary revealed that 26,000 fewer kids saw an NHS dentist last year compared to six years ago.
Although they will eventually fall out, removing baby teeth can have a repurcussions on the permanent teeth that replace them. The spaces left by removed teeth can sometimes be filled by other baby teeth. This can block the path for permanent teeth causing them to come in tilted. The other options are endodontic or root canal treatment.
The answer to the problem of ensuring that children regularly receive dental check-ups – expensive though it may be – lies in bringing dental services into schools. This is something which has happened in Glasgow. The Scottish city has embarked on a dental health drive in schools which has led to daily tooth-brushing classes and clinics where kids’ teeth are coated with fluoride varnish. The measures seem to be working as tooth decay levels among Glasgow children have fallen from 60 per cent to 40 per cent.
While schools and health education is one way of improving dental hygiene among the young there seems to be one even more direct method; putting fluoride in the water supply.
The programme points out that 10 per cent of the country, mainly in the West Midlands and parts of the North East, has fluoride put in their water. These areas, along with regions where the fluoride levels in water are naturally high, suffer less from tooth decay.
There are currently no government plans to introduce a national scheme to put fluoride into tap water and many people believe fluoridisation is an unnecessary system of ‘mass medication’ which could have harmful side-effects.
It seems that a large group of people don’t like being told that they have to have fluoride in their water; just like young Holly didn’t like to be told to go without sugary snacks.
Let’s hope that advances in science will help us find out more about the effects of fluoride on water supplies. If this happens then maybe our children will stand a better chance of helping their children look after their teeth.