WITH horror stories of DIY dental mishaps during the pandemic and greatly reduced availability of routine and emergency services, the British Dental Association (BDA) estimates that around 38 million dental appointments have been lost since March 2020 as a direct result of Covid-19 restrictions.

Thankfully, this is being in some part addressed by a much-needed infusion of £50 million and the provision of a hoped for 350,000 extra dental appointments in the coming months, some of which will be out of routine hours, to cope with the enormous backlog.

In recent years we have become more smile conscious, enhanced of late by the so called “Zoom Effect”, where online meetings have made many analyse their teeth to a much greater degree, often critically. Demand for cosmetic dental treatments has sky rocketed of late.

The majority, if not all, of these procedures are private, usually at considerable financial outlay. Indeed, many go abroad in the hope of more cost-effective solutions.

Yet the foundations of a healthy smile start much earlier, with the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry advocating a “dental check by one” or as soon as a child’s first teeth have erupted, with a minimum of yearly review thereafter.

While it may be easy to blame coronavirus for many unfortunate issues, child dental health has been a significant worry much before this, with statistics from 2017-18 showing a quarter of children having noticeable dental decay by their fifth birthday. Sadly, this figure can be twice as high in areas of deprivation.

This is despite demonstrable advances in child and adult dental health between 1983 – 2013.

You might wonder why a doctor is wading in to the debate on oral health, but if a child is brought to a consultation and shows signs of significant dental decay, this raises concerns about neglect, and naturally cannot be overlooked.

It may come as a surprise that childhood dental disease is among the top conditions requiring hospital admission between the ages of five to nine, and has the dubious honour of being the most likely reason for a child needing a general anaesthetic (GA).

Separate to the risks associated with GA, childhood dental disease constitutes a vast financial burden, affecting much more than just the NHS.

For children dental disease results in pain, inability to eat, disturbed sleep and in the UK, an estimated sixty thousand lost school days, every year.

Parents are affected too, often having to take time off to look after unwell offspring. Millions of work days a year are similarly wasted as a result.

Unfortunately, the consequence of significant childhood dental disease is dental extraction, which increases the likelihood of oral problems later in life.

Yet it is estimated that the majority, if not all of childhood dental disease is preventable with good oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups.

Dental disease occurs when sugar is consumed by bacteria naturally occurring in the mouth. This produces acid, which erodes enamel, the teeth’s protective shield, and dentine, the structure underneath.

We are now more aware that sugar not only raises the risk of dental decay but other significant illnesses such as obesity and type two diabetes, which are sadly materialising in younger individuals.

By eating a healthy diet, and choosing natural sugars such as those found in fruits rather than refined sugars in processed snacks, you are benefitting not just your oral health, but general wellbeing as a whole. It is recognised that good dentition is a surrogate marker for overall wellness.

National and international awareness campaigns, such as “Designed to Smile” (Wales), “Child Smile” (Scotland) and “National Children’s Dental Health Month” (United States) have highlighted the vast importance of childhood dental health and the recognition a healthy smile is more than just a cosmetic benefit.

According to the Oral Health Foundation, the introduction of fluoride to water sources “could dramatically improve the oral health of children across the nation, especially in the most deprived communities”, yet at the present time less than 10 per cent of UK water sources are fluoridated.

Fluoride varnishing by trained professionals has helped children in those areas where water fluoridation is not yet available.

Children are great observers of parental behaviour and if adults themselves practice good dental habits and encourage the same behaviour in their infants from an early age, with brushing made fun instead of a chore, the results are very noticeable.

If oral hygiene is started early, your smile may last a lifetime.

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