Baby's saliva can predict tooth decay, study finds

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Hamilton’s Rhode Street School have a healthy eating program in place instead of a tuck shop providing healthy cooked lunches. Reivon Love, 6, left, and Charlotte Commins, 5 help prepare some healthy snacks.

Schools are banning all drinks except for milk and unflavoured water in an effort to quell rampant rates of tooth decay amongst young children.

But the ban is proving too late for many children, with one primary school principal saying far too many of his students are arriving for their first day with rotting teeth.

The solution may be found in a new study which has discovered saliva samples taken from the mouth of 1-year-olds can predict future decay.

Good oral health management needs to begin earlier than two years old, experts say. Riley Turner enjoys mashed pumpkin ...

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Good oral health management needs to begin earlier than two years old, experts say. Riley Turner enjoys mashed pumpkin at Rainbow Kids child care centre in Hamilton.

The study was led by New Zealand-born professor Mark Gussy, an oral health professor at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, who said visiting a dentist by the age of two might be too late.

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Gussy said some infants – particularly from poor families – were predisposed to rotting teeth, and testing babies saliva early on could wind up a lot cheaper than extracting teeth. 

Rhode St School principal Shane Ngatai says far too many children's teeth are rotting by the time they start primary school.

STUFF

Rhode St School principal Shane Ngatai says far too many children’s teeth are rotting by the time they start primary school.

“We should be talking with families much younger than we already are.

“We should actually be [spending more] on these kids and less on the kids that we know won’t get decay.” 

Tooth decay affects around 40 per cent of five-year-old’s in New Zealand, according to the Ministry of Health.

La Trobe University professor Mark Gussy believes the Government needs to intervene in child dental care at an early age.

La Trobe University professor Mark Gussy believes the Government needs to intervene in child dental care at an early age.

Basic dental care is free for under 18s, but many parents aren’t accessing it early enough.

At Rhode St School in Hamilton, principal Shane Ngatai is all too familiar with the impact of poor dental hygiene.

Attending a dental conference with other teachers, he was given a jar full of teeth that had been pulled out of the mouths of three-year-old children who had been drinking flavoured milk and fizzy drinks. 

Rhode Street School have banned all drinks that aren't milk or unflavoured water.

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Rhode Street School have banned all drinks that aren’t milk or unflavoured water.

“He passed it around and said ‘take that lid off and smell that decay’,” Ngatai said.

“That hit me really hard.” 

Ngatai’s school has banned sugary drinks – including flavoured water – and introduced a healthy eating program in place instead of a tuck shop.

Tooth decay can set in as soon as a baby gets its first tooth, dentists say. (file photo)

Tooth decay can set in as soon as a baby gets its first tooth, dentists say. (file photo)

Some children at the school come from families unable to afford toothbrushes and toothpaste, Ngatai said, so the school started giving them out as prizes. 

But too many children’s teeth are already rotting by the age of five, Ngatai said. 

“We’ve got to get them before they go to school.” 

Health Minister David Clark says there are no plans to change free dental care.

STACY SQUIRES/STUFF

Health Minister David Clark says there are no plans to change free dental care.

Three ingredients are needed to harvest tooth decay: bad bacteria, sugar and a tooth. So, as soon as a six-month-old baby gets it’s first tooth, it can rot.

The study followed 600 children from birth to 7 years of age.

Unsurprisingly, a stand out dietary risk factor is fizzy drinks, Gussy said.  

What was surprising was the number of soft drinks young children were consuming.

“We’re looking at children younger than two consuming soft drinks on a daily basis.”

A study released last month found sugary drinks sold in New Zealand were worse than comparable drinks in the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Juice boxes put into lunch boxes are the perfect fuel for bad-bacteria riddled mouths, childrens’ oral health researcher Deanna Beckett said. 

Beckett, from the University of Otago, believed it was important to note that bacteria causing rotting teeth can be passed to babies through saliva.

Once the bacteria is in the babies mouth, it  flourishes with food. 

“If you’ve got someone with really high levels of that bacteria in their mouth they can pass it on to a child that is still developing its bacterial flora. 

“They only need to eat a little bit of sugar and the bacteria goes nuts. It can be really damaging.

“Another child can have the same amount [of sugar] but because they don’t have the high levels of bacteria in their mouth they get away with it.”

And it’s easy to pass on. 

“Children when they’re getting cuddles might put their fingers into another person’s mouth and then put their fingers into their own mouth. It’s a completely natural normal part of life.”

And baby teeth are temporary measures, so they are quicker to rot. 

“Their mouth is actually sterile when they’re born.”

Babies born into families who can afford to get their teeth checked and eat well usually end up with a mouthful of good bacteria, Beckett said. 

But those unable to afford the luxury of dental care are on the backfoot. 

“We should really be looking at subsidising care for pregnant mums. The mother’s oral health is a really big indicator of what the child’s oral health is going to be like.”

Health Minister David Clark said he was concerned at the increasing number of children requiring hospital treatment for preventable dental problems.

“I also want to see dental care become more accessible and affordable over time, but there are no immediate plans to change the current entitlement age of free care up to the age of 18.”


 – Sunday Star Times

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