National Oral Health Month: Tooth Fairies pay extra attention to Dental Health
September is National Oral Health Month, a time to pay extra attention to your dental routine, particularly as two of the world’s most common health problems affect the mouth – cavities and gum disease.
In observance of National Oral Health Month, the Tooth Fairies visited the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital on 11 September 2015 to raise awareness in children and their parents about the importance of oral health and encouraging the practise of good oral hygiene.
Dr Susan Brink, a Dentist, and Paula Williams, an Oral Hygienist, dress in sparkly dresses and tiaras to resemble the Tooth Fairy, attracting the children’s attention in a fun and approachable way. They teach the patients at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital the importance of looking after their primary (baby) teeth that they may develop good habits and strong and healthy teeth for life.
The Tooth Fairies started in May 2013, voluntarily rendering the service through the hospital’s volunteer programme managed by the Friends of the Children’s Hospital Association (FOCHA).
“In the last National Children’s Oral Health Survey (Van Wyk, 2004) only 39.7% of six-year-olds were found to be caries free. The National Policy on Oral Health has an objective to get this above 50% and we are hoping that the time we spend educating the children at Red Cross will contribute to achieving this goal,” said Williams.
She added that Dental decay or caries is preventable. “There are a few conditions where the teeth come through poorly formed as a result of a genetic condition or a disturbance which happens around the time of birth, but these are in the minority. Most of the children and young people we see have holes which could have been avoided by simply practising good oral hygiene.”
They teach the children about the importance of effective tooth brushing – how to and how much toothpaste to put onto their toothbrushes; and with the help of a big pair of teeth, the children are shown how to brush their teeth. They are then encouraged to demonstrate on their own teeth.
“We also encourage parents to supervise tooth brushing to ensure that it happens twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and that children spit the toothpaste out instead of rinsing their mouths, leaving the all-important fluoride on their teeth longer to strengthen it. Prioritising oral hygiene is an important way for them to help prevent oral disease in their children,” said Brink.
Parents are encouraged to restrict sweet treats to meal times and to read food labels – ‘no added sugar’ does not mean ‘sugar free’. Children within the hospital environment are often taking a cocktail of medications and parents are encouraged to be extra vigilant with their tooth brushing routines and to encourage the patient to sip water (if allowed) after syrup type medication to rinse the mouth and avoid plaque build-up.
“The children we meet at the hospital come from across the Western Cape, as well as the rest of South Africa and the African continent. We hope they take the oral health messages home to share with their families and wider communities,” added Brink.
- An estimated 90% of South Africans experience gum disease at some point. It ranks second only to the common cold in terms of prevalence.
- A child’s primary teeth, called ‘baby teeth’, are as important as permanent teeth. Primary teeth help children chew and speak and hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are developing under the gums; and are important for the proper growth of the face and jaw.
- By the time children are six years old, many of them have experienced some form of tooth decay.