HOW MUCH SUGAR IS IN YOUR FAVOURITE DRINK?
Children as young as 18 months are undergoing major dental operations to have their rotting teeth removed, with some suffering from such severe decay that all of their baby teeth need to be pulled out.
Sophie Beaumont, a dental surgeon from The Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne, said more than 1,000 Victorian children were put under general anaesthetic last year to have multiple decayed teeth removed.
‘It is certainly not uncommon to do multiple extractions on young children, often if there is one tooth with severe decay then there will be others that are just as bad,’ she said.
Dr Beaumont said many parents would not even realise the severity of the issue until their child was in so much pain they had trouble eating, sleeping or speaking.
‘Children will often present at the clinic after their parents have been kept awake all night because their child can’t sleep through the pain,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘This results in a very negative first experience at the dentist.’
But it is not just Australian children feeling the ache.
Across the ditch in New Zealand, Nelson Marlborough District Health’s principal dental officer Dr Rob Beaglehole said he and other dentists would treat children younger than 18 months for tooth decay.
‘It’s not uncommon to be taking out rotten teeth from a child still in nappies,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Last year there were 5,000 kids under seven who had a general anaesthetic to take out rotten teeth.’
Dr Beaglehole said the main cause of this problem was sugary drinks and high sugar diets – both in New Zealand and Australia.
‘We’re getting a lot of kids who are having Pepsi and Coca-Cola being put in their baby bottles,’ he said.
‘[Drink manufacturers are] actively marketing to young kids. We have a major problem in New Zealand where [national rugby union team] the All Blacks are sponsored by Coca-Cola and Powerade.
‘[Kids] might even bring in bottles of Powerade with them [to appointments] and I ask them: “Why do you drink?” that and they say: “Because the All Blacks do”. This is a five-year-old kid saying that.’
Many of the children who present with severe tooth decay at The Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne will require multiple courses of antibiotics – sometimes administered intravenously in hospital – which Dr Beaumont said was ‘quite a traumatic experience’.
Tooth decay is caused by bacteria in the mouth that erodes the surface of the tooth, causing significant damage to its structure.
‘The bacteria in your mouth feeds of the sugar you eat which then creates an acid that causes a break down of the tooth,’ Dr Beaumont said.
If you do not regularly brush to remove the bacteria or the acid created by the bacteria, you are at a much higher risk of developing tooth decay.
Diet is a very big problem, especially with parents who give their children dummies covered in honey, or bottles with sweetened drinks,’ Dr Beaumont said.
‘A lot of parents do not consider that fruit juice, cordial, fizzy drinks and even sugar-free drinks have a negative impact on teeth, especially without good oral hygiene.’
The dentist recommends limiting your sugar intake, especially in between meal times when sugar is normally absent from the mouth.
‘The biggest problems occur when there is a constant intake of sugar because the saliva doesn’t have a chance to wash it away,’ Dr Beaumont told Daily Mail Australia.
Paediatric dentist Dr Timothy Johnston warns that in most states treatment of teeth remains the most common reason to use general anaesthesia on children.
He said that, while it was important to monitor how a child’s diet could affect their oral health, regular brushing was still the best way to combat tooth decay.
‘The biggest risk factor is not sugar. Tooth decay is a bacterial disease and I don’t see this stressed enough,’ Dr Johnston said
‘You can’t get tooth decay if you have clean teeth.’
To avoid decay, Dr Beaumont said parents need to ensure children are brushing regularly using a brush with soft bristles and only a small amount of toothpaste.
She also recommends checking your child’s mouth for signs of decay, which often start out as small white spots on the tooth and can progress to be yellow or brown in colour.
‘Soon after bacteria will get into the nerve and attack the pulp tissue, which will cause quite severe pain. Once the tooth becomes infected an abscess can form and the gums will also swell,’ Dr Beaumont said.
‘The parents are always very distressed when this happens. I think it is the realisation that a lot of these issues are preventable and that causes some guilt.’
She said it was ‘not uncommon’ for children to have all of their baby teeth removed which can cause significant developmental delays down the track.
‘Children with all or most of their teeth removed can have problems eating, it can affect their speech and sleep which can cause developmental delays,’ Dr Beaumont said.
‘As for social interaction, at school they could have issues establishing friendships because they have particularly bad breath.’
Baby teeth also maintain space for adult teeth and when they are removed earlier than the body intends there can be issues around tooth crowding.
For most people, orthodontic procedures to correct the damage are out of reach, meaning they will have to live with the implications of early tooth decay for the rest of their lives.
Dr Beaumont said it was preferable not to use a general anaesthetic on such young children, but as the patients are often undergoing multiple extractions it can become too much for the child to take ‘in the chair’.
‘Children will often kick and scream or even bite at your hands which is quite dangerous when you are putting a needle in their mouth,’ she said.
‘Unless you have a parent who will physically restrain the child, unfortunately the next step is a general anaesthetic which is more complicated and far more costly.’
Due to the risks posed by placing a child under general anaesthetic, Dr Beaumont said dentists would often take a more ‘aggressive approach’ – removing more teeth – to ensure the children will not have to be anaesthetised a second time.
Tooth decay is particularly prevalent in low socio-economic groups, immigrant families and those with a lower education, Dr Beaumont said.
In an effort to increase education and awareness about tooth decay in children, the Australian Dental Association has created two online resources – one for babies and another for teens – that explain to parents how to prevent decay in their children.