Should Surrey Schools Check Whether Kids Have Brushed Their Teeth?

Should Surrey Schools Check Whether Kids Have Brushed Their Teeth?

Dr. Michael Layton
February 10, 2015

According to the British Dental Journal nearly 30,000 children a year attend hospital for tooth extraction due to tooth decay. Children from impoverished areas were the most susceptible to having poor dental care compared to their more affluent counterparts. Detailed research data revealed between 1997 and 2006 there were 517,885 individual courses of dental treatment in NHS hospitals for children up to the age of 17 years old. Dental visit admissions involved 80 percent of children requiring tooth extraction all because of tooth decay.

So thus begins the discussion of who should be responsible for a child’s dental care. The easy answer is that it’s a parental responsibility. But recently, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence of England suggested that schools ought to step in to tackle the growing trend of tooth decay amongst children. This brings up the broader and more local question - should Surrey Schools and the Ministry of Education step up to the plate on youth dental education?

Child Dental Problems

surrey school children dental issuesChildren should be checked as young as 18 months for early signs of childhood tooth decay. Unrestricted diets full of refined sugars has led to an epidemic in childhood dental diseases. The most common signs of tooth decay are the appearance of dark spots on the teeth. Discoloration of teeth is the first major sign of tooth decay. Parents should also be aware of dull white spots on the teeth. The next sign parents should be on the lookout for is the appearance of the gum tissue.

Gum disease can be present in children as young as toddlers. This common oral disease begins with the appearance of hard and soft deposits on the teeth, left over from inadequate brushing. Over an undisclosed period of time a bacteria builds up called plaque. The plaque collects at the gum line and eventually hardens into a calcium deposit called tartar. The calcium deposit tartar is identified by its unsightly brown or yellow colour it leaves on the teeth.

Poor oral care leads to inflammation of the gums called gingivitis, which can penetrate below the gum line. If immediate intervention by a dental specialist is not performed the bacteria can infect the underlying bone. Periodontal disease is usually associated with adults but this disease doesn’t discriminate based on age. Aggressive forms of periodontal disease can affect children putting them at risk for destruction of supportive periodontal tissue in the oral cavity. Additional signs of gum disease are red and swollen gums. Parents with children that experience bleeding gums when they brush or floss their teeth should consult a dentist immediately. One of the easiest signs to detect tooth decay and possible gum disease would be children who have chronic halitosis or bad breath.

Fluoride and Dental Health

Fluoride has long been advocated by the dental community as a method to combat tooth decay in the general population. People are usually confused as to the difference between fluoride and fluorine. The element fluorine is an element, fluoride is a compound that contains the fluoride ion in it.

“It is a tragedy that social class remains such an accurate predictor of oral health. Water fluoridation, as the long-standing scheme in the West Midlands illustrates, has great potential to address this divide.”- Peter Bateman, chairman of the British Dental Association’s dental committee.

The American Dental Association (ADA) has long been an advocate of water fluoridation. Today dentists use fluoride in the form of gels and varnishes.

A Few Reasons to Fluoridate:

  • Prevent tooth decay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proclaimed community water fluoridation one the 10 greatest public health achievements in the 20th century.
  • Prevents dental disease. All but the most fastidiousness hygienic children require encouragement to regularly brush their teeth. The addition of water fluoridation is an automatic step to prevent dental disease. The ADA estimates 51 million school hours are lost due to dental related illnesses.
  • Prevent cavities. Independent studies indicate water fluoridation prevents 25 percent of tooth decay in children and adults. The majority of people don’t brush their teeth before and after each meal. Even my own children have presented with cavities because of the lack of water fluoridation in Surrey, British Columbia.
  • Saving your bank book. From a municipal level investing $1 in fluoridating water is said to save $38 in dental treatment costs.
  • Recommended by more than 100 organizations. Everyone from the Canadian Dental Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) advocate water fluoridation to battle and prevent tooth decay.- ADA American Dental Association

Prevention Is Better Than The Cure

An old proverb goes something like this, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Applying simple common sense steps like ensuring your child brushes and flosses their teeth in the morning and after every meal will save you time and money.  The Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) was launched in 2007 and in 2010 Health Canada released a report based on income level and dental care visits.

The study revealed the following details:

  • 62.6 percent of Canadians had private dental insurance
  • 74.5 percent of Canadians visited a dentist in the previous 12 months
  • 17.3 percent of Canadians avoided dental care because of the cost
  • 16.5 percent of Canadians declined recommended care because of the expense
  • 2.26 million school days are lost annually due to dental visits or sick days
  • 4.15 million working days are lost annually due to dental visits or dental sick days - findings provided are from the Oral Health-More Than Just Cavities a report by Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health April 2012

The good news is that tooth decay and gum disease are easily preventable. A regular dental care regimen in addition to regular dental check ups are all that is necessary for your child’s oral health.

Recommendation 1

Avoid all energy drinks and carbonated beverages made with high fructose corn syrup.

Recommendation 2

Decrease or eliminate milk chocolate and pastries. Substitute with natural dark chocolate or desserts made with natural sweeteners like stevia instead of refined white sugar.

Recommendation 3

Instead of drinking juice made from concentrate substitute with real juice made from a juice machine. Substitute by juicing green smoothies sweetened with blueberries and frozen bananas. The sugars that are naturally contained in fruits are less corrosive to the teeth compared to the refined and GMO sweeteners found in many store bought items.

Recommendation 4

Drink water as much as possible. Tooth decay issues in children were not as prevalent in the past compared to this present fast food generation. When all else fails go back to eating and drinking natural.

Does The Responsibility Remain with Parents or Extend to Surrey Schools?

Should Surrey Schools check whether kids have brushed their teeth? Let us examine this argument from a common sense and financial standpoint. We have already outlined how simple it is for conscientious parents to safeguard their children against tooth decay. Both tooth decay and gum disease among children are health issues that can be prevented.

Who should determine if children in the school system have adequately brushed their teeth? Should the school board hire an oncall dental hygienist for every school? According to PayScale a dental hygienist earns on average $35.13 per hour. Where would the funds come from for a Surrey Schools dental health care program? In addition to funding dental care check ups for children, what would be the follow up for children who were found to have cavities and other dental issues? Additional funds would have to be allocated by Surrey Schools and the Ministry of Education to deal with cavities and gum disease.

There’s no question that this is an investment that could be well worth it. Proper dental care and dental education is extremely important at a young age and is in the best interests of the Surrey School District. At the same time, you can see the question of if Surrey Schools should be responsible for students dental health, leads to more questions. The simple course of action is to instill in children from a young age the benefits of regular brushing and the benefits of oral health. If the parents aren’t doing it, perhaps the schools should help.

About Dr. Michael Layton

Dr. Michael Layton - South Surrey DentistDr. Michael Layton (DDS) is the dentist for Peace Arch Dental, a dental office in the South Surrey/White Rock, B.C. area. He has been in the dental industry for the last decade and received his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Washington. He takes pride in providing positive and caring dental solutions and experiences for people of all ages in the South Surrey/White Rock area. You can follow him on Google+.

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