A Unique Child: Dental Health - Brush up!

Viv Hampshire
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Child dental care should begin with the first tooth and parties are a fun way to encourage it, says Viv Hampshire.

Have you ever thought about hosting a tooth-fairy party? A group of dental nurses have been doing just this at a variety of early years settings in the Hillingdon, west London area.

Children's dental care is an important health issue, often neglected by parents who may wrongly believe there's no need to worry about regular brushing or visiting a dentist while their child is very young. But there are ways of addressing these misconceptions and getting the right message across to parents: that the time to start looking after teeth is as soon as they first appear in a baby's mouth.

The idea behind tooth-fairy parties is to bring information and advice about early dental care to parents and children in familiar surroundings where they feel comfortable and relaxed, away from dental surgeries and health centres - and to do it in a fun way. So, while the children take part in specially selected activities, parents can find out about the damage that too much sugar can inflict on developing teeth, discuss any concerns, and learn the correct way to brush. The following ideas can easily be adapted to suit your own setting.

- Fancy dress: Invite children to come dressed as fairies, dentists or nurses. Provide some spare costumes too, so nobody will feel left out. And you can offer a small prize for the best-dressed partygoer.

- Crafts: Choose something simple that parent and child can work on together, eg colouring sheets featuring dentists or fairies, face masks with large teeth, making nurses' hats, or decorating tooth-fairy boxes, glittery fairy wands and wings. Play-Doh's Dr Drill 'n' Fill playset (£9.99) is popular too.

- Role-play activities: Help to take away the fear of a dental visit by letting children take turns at being dentist and patient, using a child-sized dentist's chair, complete with swivel tray for instruments (NES Arnold £119.95). Play with mini-medical kits, or practise brushing using toy teeth and giant toothbrushes. Or try Crocodile Dentist (MB Games £19.99), choosing which tooth to pull out and hoping the crocodile won't bite!

- Educational information: This is an ideal opportunity to promote dental health and encourage regular check-ups. Invite a dental nurse or health visitor along to talk to parents, or get leaflets. The nurses in Hillingdon partially fill drink bottles with sugar to show how much is hidden in a child's treats - a very effective way to show water is the safest drink.

- Refreshments: To encourage a tooth-friendly, low-sugar diet, avoid providing cakes, biscuits, chocolate or fizzy drinks. Offer chunks of fresh fruit, cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, plain breadsticks, cubed cheese, and cool water to drink.

- Stories: The perfect way to share some quiet time together at the end of the event. There are lots of informative and fun picture books available, featuring the tooth fairy and fear-free dentist's visit (see left).

- Free gifts: Children like to take something home at the end of any party, but be careful not to give sweets. Fill goody bags with apples, tooth-shaped erasers, fruit-shaped notepads or smiley stickers. Your local dental team or health visitor may be able to source some free children's toothbrush and toothpaste packs too.

Recommended books:

- Dear Tooth Fairy by Alan Durant and Vanessa Cabban (Walker Books) A pink book to be enjoyed by both girls and boys excited about losing their first tooth.

- Tooth Fairy by Audrey Wood (Child's Play) A very popular losing-a-tooth book with beautiful illustrations, that also teaches the importance of taking care of teeth.

- Horrid Henry Tricks the Tooth Fairy by Francesca Simon (Orion Children's Books). Book and CD (Miranda Richardson) set. Henry tries to trick some money from the tooth fairy, even though his teeth are still firmly in his gums!

- Going to the Dentist by Anne Civardi and Stephen Cartwright (Usborne First Experiences series). This introduces young children to the idea of a first visit to the dentist, with humorous illustrations and lots to talk about.

- Harry and the Dinosaurs say 'Raahh!' by Ian Whybrow and Adrian Reynolds (Random House) Good for those afraid of the drill. Captures the imagination more than many other dental-visit books.

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