Ask the Dentist: Why do we find it acceptable for our children to have rotten teeth?

Dentist Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast asks why tooth decay in children is socially acceptable

Why do we find it acceptable for children to have rotten teeth that need to be removed?
Lucy Stock

MORE than 5,000 children had their fingers removed across one year in Northern Ireland, a new study has shown – oops; I mean teeth removed.

There would be a huge public outcry if it were the children’s fingers abscessing and needing removed. So how come we have become so blasé about our children's teeth rotting and needing removed?

Tooth decay is an entirely preventable disease. Children with decayed teeth live in loving homes with families from all backgrounds. No adult wants to see their child suffering from the pain of a tooth abscess and at the same time we all logically know that sugar is the cause of tooth rot. So what’s going on? Why are there more children under 10 being admitted to hospital as a result of tooth decay than those needing care for broken arms?

There’s no one answer. Part of it could be that somewhere along the line showing your child “a little bit of love” has been linked with giving them a sugary treat. When an adult gives a child chocolate their face lights up and the adult is rewarded with a warm, happy feeling. Since tooth decay happens over a period of time as opposed to seeing a child fall and break their arm immediately it’s easy to deceive ourselves that these sugary treats aren’t causing any damage.

Our foods are drowning in a sea of sugar. Practically everything in a packet has sugar in it so inevitably the children are not only being given the obvious sugars like ice creams but are also frequently eating foods packed with hidden sugars. Our teeth and bodies just can not withstand the pressures of processed food.

If your child has even one decayed tooth then this is their body giving you a sign, signalling that they are getting sugar too frequently. Use this as an opportunity to have an honest think about what you’re giving your child to eat. This can actually be quite a difficult task as when we identify the sugary foods then we have to change our behaviours. The hardest thing is to change our habits but when adults change their mindsets, it’s the children who reap the biggest rewards in the long term.

It's not that children can never again have sweet treats, they just need to be given them in a more controlled fashion by reducing how often they are handed out. Families that adopt a “weekends only” sugar treat concept greatly improve the chances of their children’s teeth remaining strong, healthy and pain free.

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