Sweet treats, combined with poor oral health, is taking a terrible toll on our children's teeth. Shockingly, 12% of three year olds suffer from tooth decay rising to more than a quarter of five year olds, according to Public Health England (PHE) figures. And tooth decay is the most common reason for under-5s being admitted to hospital.
These are scary statistics when you consider that if children have a good approach to oral hygiene tooth decay is highly preventable. Over the festive period I learned about a fantastic early years toothbrushing project - a timely discovery when you consider the amount of sweet stuff children consume during Christmas.
The Smiles4Children programme is spearheaded by national charity 4Children - now part of Action for Children - working in partnership with PHE. Last year it looked at the feasibility of introducing supervised toothbrushing nationally in England in early years settings to support awareness of oral health in two, three and four years olds and help combat children's tooth decay. The aim was to create a fun, group environment for toothbrushing, for two minutes at least once a day, and build the foundations for positive oral hygiene in later life. Practitioners and parents also learnt more about toothbrushing techniques and appropriate types and amounts of toothpaste to use - a 'smear' for little ones from birth to three years old and a 'pea-sized' amount for three to six-year-olds.
Childcare settings also learnt how to store children’s toothbrushes safely to reduce the risk of cross-infection. A feasibility study of the 68 pilot nurseries and 20 childminders had great results. It found children who took part are now less reluctant to brush their teeth at home and the number of parents either attending or planning to visit a dentist with their child increased. Nursery managers and practitioners said daily toothbrushing was not an additional burden, either financially or practically, and 42% of settings found it ‘very easy’ to incorporate brushing into their daily routine.
What's more the annual costs of delivering the programme, based on a full daycare setting with 50 children operating for 51 weeks a year, was just £204.06 per year - that's a measly £4.09 per child. This included buying toothbrushes and toothpaste, paper towels and printing the information booklet.
The Smiles4Children programme is now continuing and the success of the pilot has led to PHE publishing a toolkit to support a supervised toothbrushing programme in early years settings and schools. There are a number of other toothbrushing programmes available for early years settings, however unlike in Scotland and Wales where there are national supervised programmes to improve children’s oral health, until now there has not been a national voice in England.
The programme is so simple and has obviously had a really positive impact for those children who have already taken part I hope more childcare settings will adopt the scheme. Encouraging young children to take care of their teeth is something that will prove a very valuable lesson as they grow up.