Keeping children’s smiles bright this Christmas

In a year when the health of children’s teeth has been in the spotlight, child dental experts at Plymouth University Peninsula School of Dentistry are urging parents to keep an eye on how much sugar and fizzy drinks their children consume, and when, over the Christmas period.

This year has seen some shocking statistics relating to the health of children’s teeth. The Local Government Association issued a report which stated that around 100 children a day are being admitted to hospital for operations to remove rotten teeth and the cost to NHS is estimated at more than £35 million a year.

Public Health England announced that the average five-year-old in England consumes their body weight in sugar in a year, and a report from NHS Digital showed that almost five million children did not visit an NHS dentist in 2015/16 – an increase of 40% on the year before.

Professor Gill Jones, Director of Undergraduate Dental Studies at Plymouth University Peninsula School of Dentistry, commented: 

“We do not want to be Christmas ‘Grinches’ and say children should have no sweets or fizzy drinks during the festive holiday, but there are hints and tips that parents can take on board to ensure that no lasting damage is done by their youngsters diving into the chocolate tin.”

She added: 

“The Christmas period can be a time when parents spend more time with their children, so it presents an ideal opportunity to introduce some good dental care practices that can be used throughout the year.”

Here, Professor Jones provides some basic advice on looking after children’s teeth over the Christmas period – and beyond.

Food and drink

  • It’s hard to do at Christmas, but try to limit the amount of sugary and acidic foods and drinks kids consume. Sugary drinks and snacks between meals will harm teeth and frequent snacking may make your children less hungry when it’s meal time.
  • Between meals try tooth friendly snacks like cheese, fruit and vegetable sticks (e.g carrot, cucumber), breadsticks, marmite or butter on toast, rice cakes, or a bowl of non-sugary cereal with milk (don’t add sugar or honey!)
  • Limit dried fruit between meals as it is high in sugar and can stick to children’s teeth
  • Never allow sugary foods or drinks just before bed, and only drink water
  • Keep sweets, cakes, fizzy drinks and other “treats” for pudding or as part of a meal

Brushing your teeth

To keep children’s teeth happy and healthy follow this brushing code:

  • Help children to brush their teeth for two minutes twice a day. Always last thing at night and then at one other time during the day (lots of people choose first thing in the morning – this should be before breakfast).
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is the superhero ingredient in toothpaste. You only need to use a small amount of toothpaste, about the size of a pea.
  • Adults and children over three years old should use a toothpaste with a fluoride level of 1350ppm to 1500ppm (parts per million). This will be printed in tiny numbers on both the box and the tube so have a look and see how much is in yours.
  • Use a toothbrush with a small head. This will help you to clean the back teeth and in all the tiny spaces
  • Spit, don’t rinse! Do not send the superhero fluoride down the plughole!
  • Brush teeth in a special order: and make sure you get all five surfaces of each tooth (biting/chewing surface, front, back, inside and outside)
  • Be gentle! Use circular or tiny side to side movements- don’t scrub gums away
  • Brush the gums where they meet the teeth gently using the same circular or tiny side to side movement
  • A disclosing tablet may help to show any areas you might have missed. These are available from the dentist or chemist and contain a vegetable dye which will show up any plaque you have missed when brushing.
  • Replace a child’s toothbrush regularly. A three-month old toothbrush is 30 per cent less effective at removing plaque than a new one
  • If using a powered toothbrush make sure it is charged or change the batteries regularly so the brush remains effective.
  • Make brushing fun! Sing songs with your child whilst you brush or download their favourite song to brush their teeth to – there’s a great app called Brush DJ which makes this easy
  • Make a brushing chart and award a sticker each time your child cleans their teeth
  • There are some great tooth brushing apps so maybe choose one together
  • Remember – we recommend that you help your children brush their teeth until they are at least seven years old.