‘More than half of five year olds have more than two cavities. I find that quite shocking’, says Nynke Blanksma, child dental surgery and cariology lecturer at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG). What’s more, many cavities are not treated. ‘Dutch children’s teeth are in poor condition.’ So it is about time something was done to increase parents’ awareness.
During the 1970s, the campaign ‘Eat a healthy snack - eat an apple’ was launched. It was successful: awareness of the importance of dental health increased. Blanksma: ‘In the following years all was well, partly thanks to the use of fluoride toothpaste, but this was probably also the reason that attention for the subject lapsed. Tooth decay seemed a thing of the past. Parents typically have a near perfect set of teeth and assume that their children have too.’ Blanksma believes this attitude is reflected in several behavioural habits. For example, children used to bring fruit or savoury snacks to school, whereas today they often have sweet snacks in their bags.
Blanksma: ‘It is important that parents start teaching their children to look after their teeth from an early age. Visit the dentist twice a year and brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day.’ To help get this message across, the campaign ‘Keep your teeth healthy’ (Hou je mond gezond) was launched at the end of last year ( www.houjemondgezond.nl ). All schools and daycare centres in the Netherlands received an educational package with tips for good dental hygiene. A visit to the dentist or dental hygienist completes the lesson.
According to Blanksma, the tips are practical and easy to understand for all. ‘Everybody knows it’s important to look after your teeth, but in practice there is lots of room for improvement.’ For example, many parents allow small children to brush their own teeth. This is fine, says Blanksma, but do not forget to brush their teeth again yourself. ‘You really need to continue helping your child to brush their teeth until about age ten. Before that age they’re simply not capable of doing it properly themselves; they don’t have the coordination for tooth brushing.’
Dentists can use a little help as well, Blanksma says. ‘We hope to have a set of guidelines by the end of the year to help dentists treat children. Children require different treatment to adults. They will not always lie quietly in the dentist’s chair, so you need to have a feel for it; or at least time.’ According to Blanksma, if a dentist lacks this, then he/she must be able to refer children to the right address. ‘There are plenty of dentists in the Netherlands with affinity for children.’
Parrée: ‘The basic principles are really very simple. You need to stay calm, explain what you are doing, and be honest. Do not say that it won’t hurt if it will. Otherwise the child will lose their trust in you. Do what you say and say what you do; then you’re nearly there already.’
Nynke Blanksma (1963, Franekeradeel) studied dentistry at the University of Groningen. She is lecturer in child dentistry and cariology at the Centre for Dentistry and Oral Hygiene (CTM) of the UMCG and member of the Ivoren Kruis advisory board for the Prevention of Oral and Dental Diseases (adviescollege Preventie Mond- en Tandziekten Ivoren Kruis). She is also involved in the development of the Dutch Dental Association’s (NMT) Child Dentistry Guidelines (Richtlijn Kindertandheelkunde).
Frederik Parrée (1966, Emmeloord) studied dentistry at the University of Groningen. After his studies he worked at various dentistry practices in Friesland and is now a dentist in Zuidlaren. He is a lecturer at the Dentistry and Oral Hygiene programme of the UMCG/CTM and specialised in child dentistry.
More information: Nynke Blanksma or Frederik Parrée
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