Our top tips for improving a child's oral health

"Miss! Miss! … Me! Me!" shouted a class full of excited 11 year olds. No, we weren’t giving out free Justin Bieber tickets… we were a dentist and paediatric registrar undertaking a quiz about oral health.

We attended an Oral Hygiene education day in collaboration with Hammersmith and Fulham community champions. Why were we there? Had we bitten off more than we could chew? (Excuse the pun.)

Oral health is a growing concern in the UK. Dental decay has increased by 20 per cent  over the last five years. Now one third of all children starting school have signs of tooth decay, which has resulted in tooth extractions being the commonest reason children are admitted to hospital for a general anaesthetic. How can we work together to tackle this problem?

Our session started with a demonstration of toothbrushing. The children were provided with toothbrushes, toothpaste and toothbrushing charts for an interactive session and to consolidate learning. Lida, our dentist, introduced the children to the idea of brushing your teeth for the length of your favourite song. A helpful tool is the ‘Brush DJ app ’. The children asked lots of smart questions and reflected that one of their take home messages was to make sure you ‘brush your gums' to prevent gum disease.

Then we talked about sugar consumption. One contributing factor to dental decay is that children in the UK now consume more sugary soft drinks than anywhere else in Europe. We introduced the students to the ‘Sugar Smart app'. The children were shocked to discover the amount of sugar in their favourite foods: for example, that Frosties has the equivalent of 29 cubes of sugar in each packet, and that even yogurt has lots of sugar in it. The children were eager to learn and asked questions such as ‘can sugar make you fat?’ and ‘is this bad for your health?’

The event was a success and a great example of 'integrated care', with community champions, teachers, dentists and paediatricians working together to provide a holistic health message.

Health and learning are interlinked and the classroom environment provides an excellent opportunity to improve outcomes of both. Studies have shown that children with oral health problems and children with asthma are three times more likely to miss school than their peers. Not only does health have a significant impact on an individual’s learning, school can be a particularly helpful opportunity to improve health, particularly those in hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations. Therefore a collaborative approach to health issues is vital.

Here are some oral health top tips:

1. Brush your teeth twice a day: in the morning after breakfast and at night before you go to bed

2. Brush for two minutes each time

3. Check out the Brush DJ app

4. Use a medium bristle toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste

5. Make sure to spit, but don't rinse with water when you finish brushing your teeth

6. Brush each tooth with two circular motions and then brush the gum as well

7. Change your toothbrush every 3-4 months

Many thanks to Dr Lida Arjomand, the wonderful dentist, as well as the fabulous community champion team led by Sharon Smith, who worked so hard to organise the day, and all the brilliant teachers for their support during the sessions.