‘Fridge pickers wear bigger knickers’ – but what about their oral health?

snacking in fridgeSnacking in the UK has increased by 40% during the coronavirus lockdown. Amie Holder-Soares highlights what we need to consider when we start seeing our patients again.

The coronavirus lockdown had most of us bored for three months continuously scrolling through Tiktok and practising our new dance and workout routines. Not to mention binge watching the famous Tiger King and good old Carole Baskin.

The decision to have an 11:30 am white wine spritzer became totally acceptable, after all: ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere‘. For most of us there was no routine, no leaving the house at 6:30 am, no specific coffee or lunch break. The cupboards became our go to when bored.

The nation decided to ‘fridge pick’ and the saying ‘fridge pickers wear bigger knickers’ started to become true. There was no need to go to bed on time because we had to work the next day, the fridge became our best friend even through the night. There’s a light in the fridge for a reason!

So, it came as no surprise when the BBC announced on the 1 July that snacking had increased during these unprecedented times.

The research from Guy’s and St Thomas’ charity shows a 40% rise in snacking on foods such as chocolate and crisps. Let’s not think about the amount of alcohol consumed and cigarettes smoked in this period.

As dental professionals, from day one university programmes us into trying to stay healthy and eat/drink the right foods. So how can we help our patients get back on track and re-set their habits to avoid those unnecessary sugar attacks?

Education is key

Education is absolutely key to any scenario. The old saying: ‘What they don’t know won’t harm them’ is actually a load of old rubbish. What they don’t know will harm them.

The knock-on effects of snacking through the coronavirus pandemic could lead us as dental professionals to see a significant rise in decay and gum disease across the whole of the UK. It’s enough that in 2019 one in five children have decayed, missing and filled teeth.

So, let’s get back to basics and use this time to re-set our patients habits. But how?

We are all adults

Start super simple. Our patients don’t want to hear jargon. We are all adults. So they certainly won’t respond well to lectures.

Five acid attacks a day max. Personally, I’d say no more than four and then if they have a fifth it’s no big deal.

Explain what an acid attack is. It’s anything that contains sugar or acid effectively. So yes, that piece of fruit can cause a lot of harm to the tooth surface if consumed regularly (snacking) throughout the day. However, if ate directly after a meal it’s classed as one of your five attacks in the day.

We are a nation of tea and coffee lovers, but who adds sugar? Just a sneaky one here and there? Especially during the advert break for Coronation Street when up to 300,000 kettles are boiled. I wonder how much sugar is added. Not to mention coffee, with an array of syrups to choose from and the dunk of a biscuit.

Is there a tomato ketchup fan in the practice? So many children (and adults) have ketchup with most of their meals. Let’s work out the amount of sugar per bottle. Trust me, it will shock you. Four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon. Breaking it down so our patients can relate to something usually helps our patients see and understand things more clearly.

A 330ml can of coke contains around 35 grams of sugar, which is roughly around nine teaspoons of sugar.

NHS England recommendations

  • Under the age of four – avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with sugar
  • Four to six – no more than 19 grams of free sugar (five sugar cubes)
  • Seven to 10 – no more than 24 grams of free sugar (six sugar cubes)
  • Adults – no more than 30 grams of free sugar (seven sugar cubes).

We can find free sugars in cakes, drinks, sweets and biscuits for example.

Have a demonstration/exhibition in the waiting room. We have limited appointment times, so expand your time out of the surgery. Use your whole team. I am a firm believer that a job shared is a job halved. As a dental hygienist I work with some incredibly motivated dental nurses. Some even have their Oral health Education qualification. We should utilise their skills.

Welcome to ‘The Gram’

Regular contact with patients outside of the dental setting are what millennials love. People want to see you and respect what you do. If you’re having that cocktail, make sure you’re using a straw. A subtle approach to educating your patients.

Instagram Live is scary initially. I’m definitely not one for the cameras. However, I do enjoy doing these and my patients always give good feedback. Social media is the future. It’s not for everyone though and you certainly shouldn’t feel pressure to set up a page. But it’s another option to reach out to patients. Not to mention the incredible network of friends that you acquire.

Seeing is believing

I remember seeing an image of severely demineralised enamel after having braces removed. That haunted me throughout the whole of my orthodontic treatment. I was really keen with brushing and careful with what I ate.

Scare mongering tactics can sometimes work a treat.

In conclusion

All in all, it’s important to lay out the facts to our patient’s and educate them as much as possible.

If you limit the frequency of the sugar consumed throughout the day and have no more than five acid attacks in a 24-hour period, this will reduce the effect snacking has on the dentition. For example, instead of snacking on a bag of sweets throughout the day, it’s better to consume them in one sitting.

Remember, we should consider a holistic approach and advise a well-balanced diet to ensure the body gets the nutrients it needs to function correctly.

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