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Dental Health and the Challenge of Summer Holidays

With school holidays only a short time away, now is a good time to consider how to negotiate the challenges faced when routines change and children have a lot more access to junk food. It is difficult to find a child who doesn’t love the summer holidays. It might be Ballyheigue, Banna or Castlegregory but it is a sure bet that wherever your children visit this summer there will be sweets, soft drinks and ketch-up. But with dental decay being the most common chronic disease of childhood, it is important to help your child make healthy food choices and look after their dental health during the long summer break ahead.

For regular readers you will know well by now that for dental decay to develop you need frequent sugar consumption, bacteria and time. The more sugar that is consumed, the more acid that is produced the higher the risk of tooth decay. This is especially true when children graze between meals, when the mouth produces less saliva to combat and neutralise the acids, allowing them to cause more damage to the teeth. The advice in this article also applies to other school holidays; Christmas, Easter and Halloween where sweet foods appear just about everywhere you go with your child.

Here are some simple ways to help reduce the effects of summertime sugars on your child’s teeth:

· Save treats such as biscuits, sweets and cakes for after mealtimes since this is then the amount of saliva in the mouth is greatest and will therefore better help protect your child’s teeth.

· Dairy acts as a buffer to the acids produced by oral bacteria, decreasing the possibility of tooth decay. So consider serving your children milk or cheese with holiday sweeties and treats.

· Hard sweets and sticky toffees get stuck between kids’ teeth, which can also cause dental cavities. Flossing can help remove the sugary particles. My favourite flossers are made by Bic™. They have no tooth-pick at the end and are more comfortable to use.

· To help pace the amount of sweets your child is consuming around holidays, store excess sweets in a sealed container and establish set times when your child can have a treat. Encourage children to drink more water to prevent tooth decay. If you choose bottled water check the label for fluoride content. According the American Dental Association, fluoridated water can reduce the number of cavities children get in their baby teeth.

· Always brush twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste.

Another factor to consider during the summer months is that if your child requires a course of dental treatment which could take several visits, the summer holidays is often a good time to schedule this to avoid the need for children missing school. Young children in particular are often tired and become upset more easily as the day goes on. In my experience treating children, I find that even very compliant children will behave differently after a long day at school. This is why I recommend when children need treatment, mornings are best when they are well rested and fresh. This makes the holidays an ideal time to arrange a visit.

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