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12% of 3-year-olds have tooth decay

Public Health England (PHE) has completed its first ever survey of the oral health of three-year-old children in the UK. This has been welcomed by dentists and oral health charities, as it provides a valuable insight into the state of dental care amongst young Britons. Unfortunately, many of the results are not encouraging.

For example, the number of three-year-olds suffering from tooth decay is worryingly high. More than one in every ten (12 per cent) young children have the disease, which affects three of their teeth on average.

Furthermore, the levels of regional variance are still incredibly high, with some areas having much better or worse oral health than others. Some regions saw tooth decay rates as high as 34 per cent among three-year-olds, while others were as low as two per cent. This should give some indication of where greater investment is needed.

However, although this all seems like doom and gloom there are some positives to take away; namely that 88 per cent of the UK’s three-year-olds have no tooth decay at all. According to PHE, “this reflects trends of significant improvements in dental health since the introduction of fluoride toothpaste in 1976”.

The study also identified a new type of tooth decay, which has been dubbed ‘Early Childhood Caries’. This particular disease starts by affecting the two front teeth, before spreading through the mouth. It is caused by the consumption of sugary drinks from baby bottles or sipping cups.

PHE recommends that parents limit the amount of sugar their children eat and drink, and to aim to get them drinking from a free-flow cup by the time they are six months old. The organisation also recommended brushing children’s teeth as soon as their first tooth appears.

Dr Sandra White, director of Dental Public Health at PHE, said: “While there have been significant improvements to the nation’s oral health, some areas still experience problems with tooth decay among young children.

“Thankfully, tooth decay in children can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle; by parents and carers reducing the amount of sugary foods and drinks they give their children and supporting them to brush their teeth twice a day.”

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