x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Time to help UAE children brush up on dental hygiene

Dentists talk about the importance of brushing, flossing and eating food now that schoolchildren are returning to their back-to-school routine

Dental experts recommend that the new school year is the perfect time for parents to help children get into the habit of maintaining a good oral health routine.

"When the children are on holiday all the routine is lost. They are eating everything and they are leaving the home," said Dr Marie Reine Nader, a specialist paediatric dentist at Drs Nicolas and Asp clinics in Dubai

"Talking about this back-to-school routine is something that is going to help them return to  their previous routine in brushing and flossing and eating healthy things."

Sixty four per cent of schoolchildren in Abu Dhabi had poor dental hygiene and showed signs of tooth decay during a mass screening in the emirate in the 2010-2011 academic year.

Dr Nader said tooth decay was the most prevalent problem she saw in youngsters.

"Especially in the young children. They can be as young as one year old," she said.

A sugar-rich diet, poor dental hygiene and bad parental behaviours contribute to the problem, she said.

"Some of the mothers put some honey on a pacifier or bottle top, or else they would breastfeed or bottle feed the child for the whole night. This means that the milk is staying on the teeth for the whole time and milk contains sugar."

This can result in early tooth decay, known as early childhood caries.

"This can be very damaging. Severe cases might be treated by a root-canal treatment or by extracting the damaged tooth.

Removing a milk tooth can lead to many problems at a later age," Dr Nader said, adding that a "space maintainer" had to be put into the gap to stop other teeth moving into it.

It is a myth that baby teeth are not important, as they play a significant role in a child's health and help with speech and nutrition as they grow.

Another factor is the high amount of sugary foods consumed by children, which should be substituted with healthier snacks, such as fruit, vegetables or cheese.

"Avoid candy, sugary drinks and snacks like sticky granola bars and raisins which can stick to teeth and cause decay," Dr Nader said.

She said chewing sugar-free gum after eating was a good idea.

Parents should also take their children for dental check-ups and cleaning at least twice a year.

"I see many children who only visit the dentist when they have a problem or are in pain," she said.  

Children younger than 8 should be supervised while brushing twice daily, for at least two minutes. Flossing is also important.

Another myth is that a lot of toothpaste is better than a little. Children under 2 should only use a small smear of fluoride toothpaste, and older ones should have a pea-sized amount.

Dr Nabeel Al Sabeeha, vice president of the Emirates Dental Society, said it was important that parents supported young children in developing an oral-care routine.

"Just as parents would help their kids learn to ride a bike or tie their shoelaces, a proper oral-care technique must be taught and learnt, and parents need to help their children do so," he said.

"Make sure your children brush the inside and outside of their teeth gently, as well as their gums and tongue."