Every 10 minutes a child in England has a rotten tooth removed because of avoidable decay, with only around 21% of children under three seeing a dentist.
In some parts of the West Midlands, this figure is as low as 15%, which is why this World Oral Health Day (20 March) NHS England in the West Midlands is encouraging new parents to take their babies to see a dentist early, even before their first teeth come through.
Across the region, families and health and child care professionals who work with babies, including dentists, health visitors, midwives, GPs, early years practitioners and those in hospitals, are being asked to get behind a new campaign – ‘A Little Trip To The Dentist’ – to raise awareness of the importance of starting good oral health routines early.
Dental care and good oral health is an important part of a baby’s development and a little trip to the dentist at a young age can ensure families are equipped to help keep teeth healthy for a lifetime.
While a dentist may not get to see in a baby’s mouth, these appointments are vital opportunities for parents to get information, advice and support. Dentists and their teams can help families get the best from tooth brushing, advise on sugar intake, healthy eating and drinking, teething and can also offer preventative treatments.
Taking babies to the dentist early also helps them to get used to the sights, sounds and smells of a dental practice, allowing them to feel comfortable at the dentist as they grow older.
Janet Clarke, Chair of the Local Dental Network at NHS England West Midlands, said: “It’s really important to start good habits early even before teeth start to come through. A healthy diet and introduction to tooth brushing as early as possible will have real benefits in keeping babies’ teeth free from decay.
“This campaign is a great way of putting oral health back in the consciousness of new parents and health professionals alike. Hopefully by raising some awareness and working with dentists and their teams we can start to see more babies attending the dentist, and ultimately, reduce the need for treatment.”
‘A Little Trip To The Dentist’ will have a monthly theme focusing on different elements of dental care in babies, including hidden sugars in foods, the benefits of breast feeding and much more.
Eddie Crouch, Vice Chair of the British Dental Association, and a Birmingham dentist said: “Locally there are still some areas where tooth decay, an entirely preventable disease, affects far too many children. In a lot of these cases, it’s likely the damage could be avoided or reduced simply by starting healthy dental routines earlier. Visiting the dentist is a great opportunity to not only check on teeth and receive treatment, but to get useful advice on sugar, teething, weaning and much more.
“Early visits are also vital in helping families feel comfortable at the dentist, allowing babies and children to get used to the sights, smells and sounds of a surgery.”
As well as the public-facing campaign, there is work going on with dentists and other health professionals to support them to provide the best care for very young children and families.
Josie O’Connell, a Birmingham mum of one-year-old twins Atticus and Finn, said: “If I’m honest, I didn’t think about dental care for my twins until I started getting involved in this campaign. New parents can feel really under pressure to remember so many different things, so it’s no surprise that mouths can be forgotten about until a child actually has teeth.
“When Atticus was born he had lots of complications which required open heart surgery at just a few days old. Thankfully he’s much better now, but it’s made me more grateful for the opportunities I have to give him and Finn the very best possible starts in life. If a little trip to the dentist is all it takes to reduce their risk of complications, it’s absolutely something I’m happy to do.”
Children are seen for free by NHS dentists, as are new mums for the first year after the birth of their child. Anyone who wants to find out where their nearest NHS dentist is can find them by visiting www.nhs.uk.