Nursing Matters – the importance of oral health conversations with children

Gemma Forsythe Nursing Matters oral health children

With tooth decay as the single highest reason for hospital admittance for children, this month Gemma Forsythe discusses how dental nurses can educate children on the importance of oral health during check-ups.

I qualified as a dental nurse in January 2020.

In March of the same year, I undertook my oral health education certificate through the BDA.

Oral health education is always something I have been interested in since I first started my dental nursing course. As a result, I knew I wanted to do a post-qualification course on this topic.

I believe if you create healthy habits at home from a young age, they will stick with children right through to adulthood.

Since I qualified as an oral health educator in March 2021, I have visited schools, nurseries and other settings to provide valuable oral health education to children of all ages.

Lasting conversations

I read an article recently that really resonated with me on the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) website.

It explained how having a conversation with a dental nurse can reduce further risk of tooth decay in children.

They did a study involving more than 200 families of five to seven-year-old children. The study took place in 12 centres in the UK that were having deciduous teeth extracted under general anaesthetic in a dental hospital.

To tackle this problem, the research team at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust developed a ‘talking’ intervention and trained dental nurses to have conversations with parents of children who were having teeth extracted. The conversations focused on how families could prevent further decay in the future.

Then they compared the outcomes for these children with those who had only been given standard advice about regular visits to the dentist.

The researchers checked the health of the children’s teeth two years later and asked their dentists about the care provided. They found that nearly two thirds of children in both groups went back to the dentist.

Significant results

However, the children whose families had not spoken to the specially trained dental nurses needed many more fillings.

The children whose families had set their own dental health goals had significantly healthier teeth. In addition, these children had a 29% lower risk of having new tooth decay.

This study in itself shows how important oral health education is. Not just for children but for their parents too.

As people can get overwhelmed with a lot of information at once, this could be done over a few visits focusing on a different aim each time.

One visit could be focusing on brushing before bedtime. Another visit could be looking at their diet and keeping sugary snacks for desserts after meals.

This could be undertaken by the dental nurse while the dentist types up their notes.

It may also be useful to provide an informative leaflet which explains what was discussed as it is often hard to retain a lot of information at once.

Vital education

Tooth decay is the single highest reason for children to be admitted to hospital.

A shocking 33,779 children aged nine or under were admitted to hospital to have teeth extracted in 2017 – 2018.

As well as causing pain, tooth decay results in sleepless nights and days of missed school and work for children and their families. In addition, treatment usually needs to be done under general anaesthetic which in itself poses a risk.

Evidence also shoes that children that have deciduous teeth extracted are more likely to get decay in their permanent teeth.

Time spent at the end of appointments focusing on improving oral hygiene and diet is so important. This study proves how vital oral health education is.

Tooth decay is preventable. Patients and their families just need the correct information and education to enable them to improve their oral health.

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