The most common reason very young children are admitted to hospital for surgery under general anaesthetic is to have their baby teeth extracted due to severe tooth decay. The Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons has obtained and published data which shows a shocking 24 per cent rise in the number of tooth extractions in hospital for children aged four and under, in the past decade. In 2015/16, 47 of these extractions were in babies under 1 year of age.
“These figures are simply shocking. I find it outrageous that in this country and in this day and age so many children are undergoing surgery for a condition which is largely preventable. If that many children were having another body part removed because of something we could prevent there would, quite correctly, be a public outcry.” said Professor Liz Kay, Foundation Dean of the Peninsula Dental School University of Plymouth.
A baby cannot tell us that he has toothache and it may be some time before a mother makes the connection between fractious crying and dental problems. The pain from tooth decay can discourage sucking, chewing and biting food. Whilst the secondary/adult teeth may not yet be visible, their healthy development will be affected by the removal of decayed baby teeth. Healthy baby teeth are essential for good chewing habits to develop and an important aspect in good speech development.
Cleaning baby teeth as soon as they erupt in the gums should be part of the daily routine, using a soft tooth brush or cloth. Many of the ‘convenience drinks’ and flavoured bottle water contain significant levels of sugar, so while parents may be anxious about babies becoming dehydrated, plain boiled water is the best option. All parents want to do the right thing and offer healthy foods but so often these ‘healthy foods’ are loaded with added sugar. Small pots of fruit flavoured low fat yoghurt and fromage frais should be viewed with caution.
Tooth decay in young children is preventable and for babies and children up to age 18 dental treatment is free of charge.