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A blog on oral health in the early years.

Hi, welcome to November’s blog, my name is Robyn and I am a Trainee Early Years Teacher and I am just taking on the role of Toddlers Room Leader.  When Kate asked me to write about oral health, I was nervous, I didn’t want to come across as patronising when brushing a child’s teeth is something you do every day. However, for my Early Years Initial Teacher Training course I have chosen to implement a change within the toddler room surrounding oral health. My aim is to help to promote and encourage positive oral health within the toddler room. The more I researched the more information I found, with statistics that shocked me and guidelines I didn’t know. I found that my knowledge wasn’t as good as I first thought.

The new Early Years Statutory Framework has now introduced a section of the importance of oral health stating that it has been introduced because good oral health habits need to be formed from the earliest age. With statistics showing that nearly a quarter of 5-year olds in England have tooth decay with 3 or 4 teeth affected on average. I was shocked by these statistics and wondered what could be done to help prevent this within our setting. Well, trying to get 20 or more children to brush their teeth in the toddler room wouldn’t be an easy task so instead we need to find ways to make oral health a fun subject to get children talking in setting about oral health and then they will hopefully take this home.

In the toddler room we started with something really simple, asking the children if they have been to the dentist? Some information I found while writing this blog said that only 62% of 3-5-year olds have been to the dentist. NHS England recommends that a child should go to the dentist when they get their first milk tooth, but they should also go to their parent/carer’s appointments where possible so that the dentist is a familiar place for children, this also allows parents to get advice from dentists. My Grandpa has always told me that from a young age I went to the dentist with him and watched his appointments, yet the first time I sat in the dentist’s chair on my own I levitated and ran out of the room. I think it is important that parents make going to the dentist fun and parents should try their hardest to not show any nerves that they may have, regular dental check-ups are key too.

We then went on to talk about brushing teeth and which foods are good and bad for your teeth and oral health. Children should brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste, just a pea sized amount and children should brush their teeth twice a day once before bed and at another time of the day. You should begin brushing teeth as soon as the child’s first tooth erupts, adults should supervise brushing teeth till around the age of 7 and a toothbrush should be changed every 3 months. Now I wonder how many parent’s/ carer’s struggle to get their children to brush their teeth?

Another way to promote positive oral health and reduce the risks of tooth decay is to reduce the amount/ frequency of the sugary foods and drinks that children have, another thing that is often forgotten is that you should try your best to get sugar-free medicines.

Furthermore, another way to support oral health is the issues surrounding dummies, bottles and sippy cups. The NHS Oral Health Foundation discourages the long-term use of dummies and baby bottles for the impact of speech, as well as tooth decay and the increased risk of stomach and mouth infections. The NHS general advice advises that you should try to wean your child off a dummy when they begin to babble or at least by 12-18 months of age, failing that at least try to limit the amount of time a child has their dummy for example just for sleeping and also the importance of trying to ensure a child takes their dummy out when they would like to talk. The NHS also explains that there is no need for a sippy cup, a free-flow feeder cup is better as it doesn’t have valves and the flow of liquid (ideally milk or water) is unrestricted, meaning that a child can learn to drink normally rather than by sucking.

At Great Wood Farm in all the rooms we try hard to discuss the children’s oral health, we discuss why it is important to brush our teeth and to go to the dentist, these conversations can sometimes come from a child’s comment or we may focus a group time around this subject.  We also have a book in each room which is age appropriate to the children’s age to help promote oral health. The children also enjoy role play surrounding oral health and a specific interest is getting the tooth brushes out and brushing the germs off the laminated teeth, and we have jumbo teeth and story sacks to also support.  We talk about what foods and drinks are good and bad for our teeth and all of our snacks in setting help to promote this.

For me, these are the top tips to help promote and support early oral health for children, however, it is not always as easy as what is written in black and white. There is a lot of information surrounding children’s oral health but never be afraid to do something wrong, it is important to make sure that everything is as fun, and child centred as possible and each child is an individual and will do things at their own pace. For my case study for university I sent out a questionnaire to toddler parents to find out their knowledge and understanding surrounding oral health, one parent in particular bought up the comment on how because of COVID their child had only just had their first dentist appointment and I wondered if this was the case for many children given recent times, a number of other parents also said that they really struggle when it comes to getting their children to brush their teeth and a few parents also asked for advice about dummies and bottles. Hopefully, this blog and the useful sites linked below will help to answer some of these questions. There are also some ‘top tip’ yellow leaflets outside the toddler room and in the box near the main door if anyone would like one please help yourself.

If there is anything, we can do to support your child through their oral health journey or any questions please do not hesitate to ask any members of staff.

February is Oral Health Matters month as a setting we will be doing a range of activities to help promote positive oral health in our setting.

Useful links