A recent article in the West Australian newspaper sheds light on alarming news: dentists are pulling out rotten teeth from approximately 21 children a week at Perth Children’s Hospital. While half of the children are yet to see their fifth birthday, shockingly, some are still in nappies.
Children’s dental decay issues are now reaching emergency levels. Since PCH opened its doors in 2018, tooth extraction has been the most common emergency surgery. Child and Adolescent Health Service chief Aresh Anwar states that the number of emergency surgeries for tooth extraction is higher than that for broken bones.
According to WA Health Department figures, over that period (2018 to present):
- 282 children had teeth removed
- 237 children had emergency surgery for fracture
- 216 children underwent an appendicectomy
“…the number of (Perth children’s) emergency surgeries for tooth extraction is higher than that for broken bones.”
Emergency removal of what would normally be perfectly healthy teeth is even more tragic when you consider that the surgery is not performed to treat accidents or unpreventable illness. They are, mostly, entirely preventable.
PCH specialist paediatrician dentist Jilen Patel said that children are routinely presenting in severe pain, requiring emergency surgery, and routinely having five to six teeth pulled out at once. These children are aged between 12 months and eight or nine years old.
He said in some cases, the pain was so bad that the children could not sleep, eat, play or speak properly.
At the Royal Dental Hospital in Melbourne, Dr Sophie Beaumont says that “it’s not uncommon to be taking up to 12 or 14 teeth out from very little children, even from the ages of three and four”.
The National Child Oral Health study indicates that dental decay is the most prevalent oral disease in Australian children, with one in three children between the ages of five and six, having symptoms of decay in their baby teeth.
Extracting children’s teeth as a last resort and for many, there’s a misconception that baby teeth don’t matter; adult teeth will fill the void. Unfortunately, though, it’s not that simple.
Baby teeth retain space for the adult teeth. Without these ‘natural retainers’, adult teeth risk chronic alignment problems, requiring more expensive dental work – to avoid both aesthetic and dental health problems. Additionally, without the baby teeth, the young child will spend many years with a gummy smile, unable to eat well, talk well or feel comfortable in social situations.
Why is this happening?
The cause of this silent epidemic is no surprise. Many young parents remain uneducated about children’s health and the importance of regular dental care – and – most importantly, they are unaware of the dangers of sugar. These children are consuming a lot of sugar and sugary drinks.
According to Dr Patel, one of the main culprits were putting children bed with bottles full of milk, juice or even soft drink. Additionally, many parents are buying process food for their children, which are laden with hidden sugars and exacerbate the problem.
“Enamel on baby’s and children’s teeth is softer and thinner than on adults’ teeth and can become more easily – and quickly decayed.”
How to look after your child’s teeth
Avoid or eliminate sugar
- Do your very best to stick to tap water or plain milk. Do not allow your child to drink cordials, soft drinks, flavoured milks or juices. Do not feed your children sweets or chocolates.
- Do NOT allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle of sugary beverage – or milk – in their mouth. If you are giving a young child or baby a bottle, only cooled, boiled water should be used to quench thirst.
- If, occasionally, your child does have sugary food or beverages, brush their teeth immediately, or rinse their mouth with water.
Brush their teeth
Young children need their toothbrush twice a day – and they need your help until they are around the age of seven or eight.
Visit the dentist
Your child’s first dentist should be around their second birthday. Do not leave their first dental visit until later years. Regular dental visits are extremely important for children.