Launch of the Preliminary Report of the North/South Survey of Children's Oral Health 2002

13 Jun 2003

NEW SURVEY HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR INFORMATION CAMPAIGN TO EDUCATE PARENTS ON PROPER CARE OF CHILDREN’S TEETHPreventative screening programme and care services required for under-fivesThe Dental Health Foundation (DHF) has today (Friday, 13 June) said that the development of an effective and sustained public information campaign, aimed at the parents of young children, about the dangers of excessive and high frequency of sugar consumption and the proper use of fluoride toothpastes is now vitally important. The Foundation was responding to the publication of the preliminary results of a major North/South study on the health of children’s teeth which showed that over two-thirds of 15 year-olds have decay in their permanent teeth.Deirdre Sadlier, the DHF’s Executive Director, welcomed the fact that the survey shows that tooth decay has declined by half in the Republic since 1984, and that oral health is better in people living in communities with water fluoridation.“However, the study also reveals an increase in the level of fluorosis, a white mottling of the enamel of the teeth associated with the increased availability of fluoride. This issue was highlighted in the report of the Forum on Fluoridation, which was published last September, which made key recommendations about the issue of the appropriate use of fluoride toothpaste.“The DHF’s own research has indicated that the public do not appear to be conscious of the difficulties posed by inappropriate tooth brushing, in particular the dangers to children of ingesting excessive levels of fluoride from toothpaste. Children under-two should not have their teeth brushed with fluoride toothpaste and those aged two to seven years should only use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. However, our research indicates that parents of under-sevens are largely unaware of the proper use of fluoride toothpaste”.Ms Sadlier pointed out that a recent study in Cork found that 60% of the one and a half year olds to two and half year olds, who took part in the study, swallowed between 70% and 100% of the toothpaste placed on the toothbrush. “Given the increased levels of fluorosis identified in the North/South study and the low levels of awareness highlighted by the DHF’s research, the development and implementation of a sustained and effective information campaign on the appropriate use of fluoride toothpaste is vitally important. Such a programme must focus, in particular, on the parents of young children”.Deirdre Sadlier said that such a programme must also address the dangers posed to children’s teeth, as well as their overall health, of excessive sugar consumption.“While decay levels in the Republic have declined, the fact is that over two-thirds of our 15 year olds continue to have decay in their permanent teeth. In our view excessive and high frequency of sugar consumption in the form of drinks, sweets and refined foods are huge contributors to this continuing high level of decay. We need to inform parents and teenagers of the importance of a balanced diet as part of an overall oral health awareness campaign”.

In this context, Deirdre Sadlier said that the Foundation has recently expressed its concerns to the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland about the number of food and drink advertisements directed at children. She then went on to say that the rise in decay levels among the five-year olds surveyed in the North/South study highlights the needs for a preventative screening programme for pre-school children.“Children under five years of age are not catered for by the state’s dental care services, and the findings of the North/South study show that the development of a preventative screening programme and care services for these children is a matter which needs to be addressed as a key priority in the government’s primary care strategy. Children are very vulnerable to tooth decay, notably during the first years following the eruption of teeth, especially due to the high and increasing consumption of drinks with considerable sugar content.“However, in order to develop appropriate dental services for under fives we need to conduct research as a matter of urgency. At present, there is an absence of national data on the oral health, dietary and oral hygiene practices of children under five years, including children with special needs. The collation of such data will be essential to underpin the development of services for young children,” Deirdre Sadlier concluded.The full report is available on the Department of Health and Children's website at