This Portsmouth dentist once had to remove all of a two-year-old’s teeth

Good brushing in a bid to stave off tooth decay is no silver bullet against a sugary diet.

Thursday, 18th April 2019, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 18th April 2019, 11:26 am
Retired dentist and chair of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Dental Committee, Phil Gowers, warned about the risks of not attending appointments
Retired dentist and chair of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Dental Committee, Phil Gowers, warned about the risks of not attending appointments

That’s the view of a senior dentist who warns that young people must be taught about good teeth care early on in their lives.

Latest available figures from Public Health England shows that in 2015, 18.1 per cent of five-year-olds in the city had some rotting teeth - more than the 15 per cent in Hampshire.

Even so, that compares favourably to a national average of 24.7 per cent of five-year-olds experiencing tooth decay.

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University of Portsmouth Dental Academy students working and training

But among those with extractions the average number of missing teeth was 4.1 in Portsmouth, higher than the England average of 3.5.

And recent figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that only 55.3 per cent of under-18s in the city had visited an NHS dentist last year.

For Phil Gowers, former Portsmouth dentist and chair of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Dental Committee, it was important that children are taught about tooth care from a young age.

‘If we can get children to come to the dentist at an early age that sets them up to have healthier mouths through to their adult years,’ he said.

‘I once treated a child from Portsmouth who had to have all their teeth taken out at the age of two and a half years old.

‘They had been living on a diet purely of Polo mints and cheese sandwiches.

‘They had to wait until they were six-years-old for their adult teeth to come in.

‘And of course they don’t come in all at once so they were left with large gaps in their mouth. Not only would this limit their diet but made them the subject of bullying at school.’

Mr Gowers believed that a lot of tooth decay issues were a result of poor diet, rather than a lack of brushing.

He added: ‘Most recently a lot of problems we get are associated with lifestyle.

‘When you walk around the supermarkets now you see so much sugary food. It is sugar that causes more harm to your teeth than not brushing. If you are always eating sugar then you are going to get decay.

‘But this is preventable if we cut down on our sugar intake.

‘Both children and adults must visit the dentist regularly, there’s no point waiting until you have a problem. It’s about preventing tooth decay, not trying to fix it.

‘It would be good if children are taught from a young age that going to the dentist is a positive thing, so they continue to go into adulthood.’

Parents who spoke to The News have said encouraging children to brush is a ‘constant battle’ - with youngsters guzzling energy drinks even before going to school.

Matthew Foster from the Parenting Network, which acts as a support for mums and dads in the city, said: ‘From what we have been told by parents for some of them it is a constant battle with kids to get them to brush their teeth.’

But he added that there were solutions. ‘There are apps now that encourage children to brush their teeth as well as novelty toothbrushes and some parents turn it into a game,’ he said.

‘But even then it can still be difficult to keep children’s teeth healthy. What we are always recommending as a service is that children just drink water where possible and that parents but equipment like toothbrushes from the dentist. And then when children are old enough they should be switching to electric toothbrushes.

‘A huge problem is the amount of sugar that children are eating and drinking. I know from my own experience as a dad that when I go into school I see so many children with energy drinks before the school day has even started.

‘We’re encouraging parents and schools to show children how much sugar is in different drinks by comparing it to the equivalent in sugar cubes. That works really well.

‘And many children are anxious about visiting the dentist. It comes from that old stereotype of dentists being scary, which isn’t helped if parents talk about them in this way and mention things like drilling.

‘It should be a joint effort between parents, schools and dentists.’

For a Portsmouth father-of-one, Michael Warren, turning appointments into family trips were key.

The 34-year-old said: ‘Our son Ollie is eight and has been going to the dentist with us since he had his first baby tooth.

‘He was a bit nervous when he went the first time but after that he’s been fine. He wasn’t actually booked in but my partner and I had an appointment so we brought him along with us. Since then we have turned going into the dentist a family outing. That way he knows it’s not something to be scared of.

‘We got him an electric toothbrush that times him for two minutes, so we turned it into a game. And now that he’s older he has switched to an Oral-B electric toothbrush which lights up red if he brushes too hard. As he’s always brushed his teeth it is part of the routine.’

Michael acknowledged that sugar was a problem.

‘What kids don’t like sugary drinks?’ he said.

‘We limit the amount of squash Ollie drinks and he doesn’t eat a lot in terms of sweets. We allow him to have sweets but only as a treat. If children don’t eat sweets and drink sugary drinks everyday it’s okay.’