Since stumbling into this crazy world of blogging as an active participant as opposed to a user, one of the things I have loved the most is the connections I have made with others. People who inspire, support and educate. Dr Sam Byrne from @_the_tooth_fairy is one of these connections, she is a reputable source of information and her recent posts around alternatives for party foods and favours other than sweets were fantastic.
As we move into Dental Health Week (7th-13th of August) it seems appropriate to share with you wisdom from The Tooth Fairy in this educational and helpful Q and A.
Q and A with The Tooth Fairy
Your role sounds really interesting – what attracted you to the dentistry field and what do you enjoy most about it?
I always loved science at school, and also loved working with my hands so I thought dentistry would be a good mix of both. After working as a dentist for 4 years I decided to give up clinical dentistry and do a PhD in oral microbiology as that was the area I found most interesting.
My work days are a wonderful mix of laboratory research and teaching at the Melbourne Dental School. In the lab we are investigating the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum diseases and I really enjoy the combination of problem solving and discovery. When I am teaching, my students are learning about oral diseases and most importantly, how they can help their patients prevent them which is very satisfying to be a part of.
Why is good oral hygiene important?
Our mouths are filled with lots of different microorganisms, mostly bacteria. Many of these help keep us healthy. However, when they grow on our teeth as dental plaque, some of these bacteria are able to cause tooth decay and gum diseases.
Tooth decay is a preventable disease however in Australia almost half of all 6 year olds have decay in their baby teeth. This can result in pain, infection requiring antibiotics, difficulty eating and time off kindergarten and school.
Maintaining good oral hygiene by removing dental plaque with thorough regular tooth brushing is an important step in preventing oral diseases.
We also know that good oral health is important for good general health.
How have you developed good oral hygiene practices in your own family?
My children (ages 3, 6 and 9) have learnt about how important it is to brush their teeth to prevent tooth decay from a very young age so regular tooth brushing is now a habit that fits easily into our daily routine. There are some lovely books available for different ages that help reinforce the importance of oral hygiene.
But it can be tricky getting to this point! Teeth should be brushed twice a day; after breakfast and before bed. Wrestling to clean teeth however isn’t a great start to a calm bedtime, particularly when children are very little! Introducing tooth cleaning as soon as teeth are present in the mouth and trying to make it fun can help. Teeth, nappy, story, bed worked as a good routine for us.
The stubborn toddler stage might need some gentle negotiation where perhaps they have a go of brushing your teeth or teddy’s teeth before you do theirs, and lots of praise helps but my one rule is that teeth will always be brushed!
There is a lot of focus about moving away from refined sugar, are other sugars actually any better for our teeth?
This is a really good question.
Tooth decay is caused by bacteria our mouth turning the sugar we eat into acid. This acid causes damage by dissolving the calcium and phosphate mineral from teeth. Over time if this damage is not repaired holes will form in the teeth.
The bacteria in the mouth are not fussy and will turn just about any sugar we give them into acid. This means that not only refined sugar but sugar in fruit juice, honey, maple syrup, rice malt syrup, coconut sugar, pureed dates etc will all be turned into acid. So no, none of these sugars are any better for our teeth.
What are your top tooth friendly lunchbox items you recommend we include for our kiddies?
Tooth friendly foods are low in sugar, promote chewing (which increases saliva flow to help protect teeth) and contain calcium and phosphate (to help repair damage). So my top tooth friendly lunchbox items are
Water helps wash away acids after eating, and keeps children hydrated which helps with healthy saliva flow. Saliva helps remove acid from the mouth but also contains lots of calcium and phosphate. Having plenty of saliva around helps repair and protect teeth from tooth decay.
Carrot, cucumber, celery, capsicum, peas, beans – whatever is cheap and in season. Raw vegetables are low in sugar and need lots of chewing which are both great for teeth. Instead of fruit for their morning snack (we call ours ‘brain food’ at school but others call it ‘morning fruit’) I always pack vegetables for the boys.
Liquid or sticky sugar is associated with tooth decay, so whole fruit is the tooth friendly way to eat fruit rather than juices, fruit leather or bars.
Unsweetened dairy contains lots of calcium, phosphate and protein. These all help to repair tooth mineral and protect from tooth decay.
Low in sugar, high in fun, cheap and easy. Air-popped popcorn ticks all the boxes!
Thank you Sam for helping out with this blog post!