Battling Tooth Decay in Preschool Children – One Story at a Time

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NTU students launch campaign to alert parents about their preschool children’s oral health; survey findings show that not enough parents are bringing their children for regular dental visits.

Singapore, 25 February 2014 – Four final-year communication undergraduates from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are going around preschool centres and libraries to hold storytelling sessions for children and their parents as part of the ‘Project Tooth Keeper’ campaign.

Launched at the start of the year, the three-month-long campaign has seen the four undergraduates conducting the storytelling five times since mid-February. They are slated to appear at some seven more preschools over the next two weeks. Written and performed by the team, the stories carry messages promoting good oral health habits and children are taught through songs and participation.

“Some parents tell us that it can be tough to force their children to brush their teeth or visit the dentist because children often become difficult when it comes to things they see as chores. We hope our stories can help teach children about the importance of healthy teeth and make them more receptive to taking good care of their oral health so they will pose less challenge to their parents when it comes to brushing time,” explained group member Nina Zainudin, 23.

The students have set up the ‘Project Tooth Keeper’ campaign in partnership with the Singapore Dental Association (SDA) to tackle tooth decay in preschool children, which has seen a jump in numbers. Through interviews with paediatric dentists, the team discovered that there has been a rise in the number of children who are found to have tooth decay by the time they enter primary one.

Latest available figures from the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) School Dental Service (SDS) show that the number of primary one pupils with tooth decay has increased over the past decade; close to 50% of the cohort were reported to have decayed teeth in 2012. This is in comparison with a 2009 study by the Faculty of Dentistry, National University of Singapore (NUS), which found that 40% of preschool children suffer from tooth decay.

Results from a survey that the Project Tooth Keeper team conducted among 202 parents with infant and preschool children aged between zero and six years old also found more cause for worry. Despite the importance of regular dental visits for preventing the onset of tooth decay in young children, the team has found that most parents do not see the need to bring their children for dental check-ups, mistakenly believing their children to be too young or that baby teeth to be less important since they are bound to fall out. Close to 80% of parents surveyed said they do not bring their children to the dentist at all, bring them only once a year, or only when their children are in pain – well below what dentists recommend, which is six-monthly visits for children not diagnosed with tooth decay.

Accordingly, Project Tooth Keeper aims to promote good parenting for preschool children’s oral health, and encourage more parents with children aged six years and below to bring their children for regular dental visits.

On what prompted the collaboration with NTU students to alert parents of preschool children about their children’s oral health, Dr Kuan Chee Keong, President of the Singapore Dental Association said: “Preschool children are what I term as the ‘overlooked age group’ in terms of oral care. Milk teeth usually erupt as early as six months after birth and by three years old, most will have a full set of baby teeth. In these few years until primary school, caregivers may not give priority to the oral hygiene of the child and the importance of primary milk teeth.

The great myth is that only permanent and not the primary milk teeth are important. By the time they enter primary schools to receive the attention from School Dental Service, some problems may have deteriorated severely with long-term consequences.”

Through the SDS, primary school pupils are provided with basic dental treatments at their school dental clinics during school hours. For preschool children however, who are not provided the same, it is crucial that their parents be the ones to bring them for dental check-ups. That few parents actually do so is a cause for concern, as tooth decay can be easily prevented with a simple dental check-up.

Dr Ng Jing Jing, a paediatric dentist at a private clinic, advises that parents do not wait for a problem before bringing their children for the first dental visit: “If the child is suffering from pain on his first dental visit, they are most likely to be uncooperative and apprehensive in the future. Hence, we recommend that a child be seen by a dentist by age 1 or within 6 months after the first tooth erupts.”

The Project Tooth Keeper campaign will culminate in March with free dental forums for parents to pick up tips on caring for their children’s oral health and a ‘Programme Zone’ involving oral-health related carnival games and photobooth fun for the family. Dentists from the Society for Paediatric Dentistry (Singapore) will be conducting the forum talks at three different sessions throughout the day. Parents can now register for their preferred forum session through Project Tooth Keeper’s website or Facebook page, and forum participants can look forward to receiving goodie bags worth
over $100. The event, Tooth Keepers’ Day Out, is scheduled to run at the Woodlands Regional Library on 9 March, from 10am to 4.30pm.