Dental care for kids - it’s time to make a change

By Debbie Kotua, Tamariki Ora Nurse

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Each year 35,000 children aged 12 and under have rotten teeth extracted because of excessive sugary diets, mainly from sugary drinks and other junk foods. For Māori and Pacific Island children this is often made worse because the problem disproportionately affects the disadvantaged.

In a recent newspaper article, New Zealand Dental Association spokesman Rob Beaglehole says, "You can clearly map out tooth decay rates with not only ethnicity, but also with postcode, it's a disease of poverty."

Beaglehole says sugar is "decimating" teeth in Māori and Pacific Island communities. Decayed teeth are painful for children and costly to fix.  

"If kids are losing their teeth at a young age they're going to be in pain and they will be suffering for weeks and weeks before they even get to the doctor."

Nationally, each year just over 5,000 children aged eight and under received treatment for severe tooth decay using a general anaesthetic, with rates of treatment tripling since 1990. Every treatment under general anaesthetic costs about $4,000.

Beaglehole says consumption of sugary drinks is one of the leading causes of tooth decay. Brushing teeth twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste and water will significantly reduce the risk of decay. Teeth will get "hammered" without regular brushing, he says. 

Te Piki Oranga is tackling this issue by ensuring that every tamariki under five receives a toothbrush and toothpaste as a part of Tamariki Ora. Information and education about good oral health is also a part of every Well Child check, and if whānau are having difficulties getting to their local dental hub for check-ups made through the school holidays then Te Piki Oranga is also able to provide transport support.

Spoonfuls of Sugar

* A standard 350mm can of fizzy drink can contain as many as 10 teaspoons of sugar, and the same amount of fruit juice can have 12 teaspoons.

* New Zealand is the 11th largest consumer of soft drinks,  including fizzy carbonated drinks, concentrates such as cordial, juice, sports and energy drinks, bottled waters and ready-to-drink tea and coffee.

* Kiwis, on average, consume about 54 kilograms of sugar a year, equivalent to 37 teaspoons of sugar a person every day.