Skip to content
Clinical / June 29, 2023

Combatting dental decay in children

by Emma Ryan

Emma Ryan on oral health in children

Emma Ryan, IDHA Kin Dental Hygienist of the Year 2022, highlights the importance of good oral health in children, and explains what the dental profession can do to help parents prioritise it.

Good oral health in children is essential for overall health and quality of life. One in three children under the age of five are affected by dental caries in Ireland. 

With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, delays in HSE-targeted school screenings, long waiting lists for specialist referrals and the cost of living, accessing dental care can be difficult in some cases. 

Therefore, maintaining good oral health in young children is paramount. Educating parents on the importance of primary teeth and providing advice on how to prevent caries is key. 

Creating good habits

As dental professionals, we are in a unique position to increase awareness of the importance of oral health in children. 

Dental decay is the most widespread non-communicable disease. People of all ages are at risk of dental decay but more vulnerable groups like children are more prone. 

Dental caries is a cumulative disease that can span from early childhood into adult years. Therefore, early preventive initiatives are vital. 

Children who learn good oral hygiene habits from an early age are more likely to continue those habits into adulthood, resulting in better oral health and fewer dental problems. Good oral health starts at home. 

Impact of poor oral hygiene 

Many parents are unaware of the impact poor oral hygiene can have on a child until it is too late. 

Unfortunately, it can result in a child being in pain, unable to sleep or eat, and missing school. This can be distressing for the whole family. 

In addition, treatment can be complex and may require specialist care under sedation or general anaesthesia. 

It can also affect the permanent dentition, causing overcrowding or crooked teeth, which can affect a child’s self-confidence. 

The perception that primary dentition is ‘just baby teeth’, and can be replaced, needs to change. The role they play in, not only a beautiful smile, but also the speech development and self-confidence of a child needs to be highlighted. 

Tooth decay is largely preventable through good brushing with fluoride toothpaste, and by reducing sugary foods and drinks. However, this is not always so easy. 

The message of good brushing twice a day is not new. However, not everyone is confident about how to brush children’s teeth. They might not know how long to brush for, or up to what age children need help. 

Food choices and eating habits are key to keep children healthy and strong. But with children being exposed to three junk food advertisements every 10 minutes via online media, this can be a battle. 

Educating parents

By educating parents on the importance of oral health for their children, dental professionals can help prevent problems. 

This includes teaching parents how to properly brush and floss their child’s teeth. In addition, they should provide tips for healthy eating and drinking habits. 

It’s also important to encourage parents to schedule regular dental check-ups for their children, as this can help identify any potential problems early on and prevent them from getting worse. 

Through our chairside interventions and by adopting a common risk factor approach, this collaborative outlook can help improve overall health and not just the oral health of this cohort. 

Benefits for dental professionals

Finally, educating parents on the importance of oral health for their children can also have a positive impact on dental professionals themselves. 

By building strong relationships with parents and children, dental professionals can establish a loyal patient base that will continue to come back for regular check-ups and other dental services. 

The Kin Dental Hygienist of the Year award is announced at the Irish Dental Hygienists Association’s annual conference. This year’s conference will take place over 17 and 18 November at the Midlands Hotel, Portlaoise. The theme will be ‘Back to the Future’. Speakers will be announced soon – follow @irishdentalhygienists on social media for the latest news.

For more information, and to download Emma’s winning leaflet – Oral health for two to six year olds: helpful tips for growing healthy smiles – visit