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Background: Limiting tooth decay

Links to activities: healthy oral hygiene and healthy diet: how much sugar is in your drinks.

Tooth decay can be prevented by limiting the number of times we consume foods and drinks with sugar, including tea and coffee, and brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

It is important to note that tooth decay is related to how often you have sugar in your mouth, not the total amount of sugar. Consuming sugar in small amounts and often, for example, several cups of tea with sugar during the day, means teeth are bathed in sugar all day. This increases the chance of plaque bacteria using the sugars in the mouth to make acid, and eventually can lead to dental caries.

We can limit sugary foods and drinks to mealtimes only, so that the teeth are only “under attack” a few times each day and are protected from sugar more often than they are “under attack”.

Infographic showing top 3 ways to limit tooth decay - reducing consumption of sugary food and drinks, brush teeth twice daily, and take child to dentist when firts tooth erupts, then at 6 months, then on regular basis.

Image taken from Public Health England “Health Matters”.

When speaking to children and young people, encourage them to set reminders to include tooth brushing to their hygiene routine both in the morning and evening. This can be achieved by encouraging them to keep their toothbrush and toothpaste in sight to remind them to brush.

Did you know? Saliva has protective properties. Because we produce less saliva at night, it is important to avoid sugars in the evening and to clean teeth with a fluoride toothpaste just before bed.

Fluoride in our toothpaste and water can help strengthen teeth and prevent tooth decay. When brushing teeth, remember to spit not rinse; this ensures that a layer of fluoride remains on your teeth and can continue to protect the enamel from acid.

Once their teeth first appear, children should start to see the dentist regularly and visit as frequently as the dentist recommends, which is usually every 3 to 12 months. This can reinforce healthy oral care practices and ensure that any tooth decay is detected early. NHS dental care for children and pregnant women in the UK is free.

Women are also entitled to free dental care when pregnant and up until their child is 1 year old. Dentists use fluoride varnish to protect the teeth of children aged 3 to 15.

Please find further reading on oral hygiene in the see also section below, as well as teaching resources and child-friendly resources.

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