Perth parents are living in blissful ignorance of their children’s horribly decaying teeth, new research has showed.
HBF surveyed 625 parents of six to 17-year-olds from WA, NSW and Victoria about their children’s dental health and examined dental claims data to produce the research.
Two thirds of parents rated their child’s dental health as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’, it showed.
But almost a third of children were brushing once a day at most.
More than a quarter of children never flossed, and nine per cent of parents had no idea if or when their children flossed.
The research might help explain a University of Adelaide and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report from 2015 showing that in 2010, more than half of six-year-olds and almost half of 12-year-olds had experienced tooth decay – for the 12-year-olds, this decay was in their permanent teeth.
One four-year-old came to see Perth paediatric dentist John Camacho with “rampant” tooth decay caused by poor hygiene and diet.
Both his parents and grandparents adored the boy but allowed him chocolate, chocolate drinks and juices whenever he wanted them. They had little awareness of what constituted a healthy mouth.
“Things just exploded in his mouth,” said Dr Camacho, who was forced to extract the boy’s teeth under general anaesthetic. He was not optimistic about the chances for the boy’s adult teeth when they grew in.
Another common scenario was “nursing decay”, in which people fed babies at night on the breast or the bottle. They did not clean the babies’ teeth afterward and the sugars in the milk rotted on the teeth.
Dr Camacho said a lot of tooth decay was going unnoticed even by dentists because it was not standard practice to X-ray children.
Generally children were referred to his private practice because there was a hole in their tooth. But it was rarely just one.
“If there is a sizeable cavity that same process means decay in other surfaces, the adjacent surfaces,” he said.
“The likelihood is you will find more. You can’t isolate one tooth. It is a bacterial process, like termites in a house.”
He said while many of his patients didn’t present with bad oral hygiene, children had softer teeth generally than adults that could break down quickly if things went wrong.
And some children had even softer enamel than the rest, meaning one sibling could end up with a decaying mouth while their brothers and sisters were fine with similar cleaning regimes.
The public system saw more children with problems related to demographics, from low socio-economic areas, subject to parents’ ignorance or neglect. It was these children, for example, who were given soft drinks while they were still drinking out of baby bottles.
Whatever the demographic, and whatever the capacity to pay for dental work, early intervention was best. If problems were caught earlier it was less likely they would get expensive.
Dr Camacho said when babies were 12 months old it was appropriate for parents to begin a dialogue with a professional, get children into a routine of being seen by a dentist and familiarise them with good behaviour.
“As soon as teeth form contact with each other the child must be in a routine of using floss,” he said.
“It is the single most important thing to start a habit to benefit a child all the way into adulthood. Don’t differentiate it from brushing, just term it as the way you brush between your teeth with a string.
“Use floss holders, piksters, myriad designs are acceptable, just find the right one for your child and disrupt those decay processes between the teeth.
“Creating good habit starts with a parent. Kids do what they see. They pick up those habits. Good behaviours lead to good outcomes.”