Expensive and painful dental treatments have become part of growing up for many children; a sad reality that a leading dentist is determined to change for good.
With the latest figures showing NSW is in the grip of a tooth decay crisis, Dr Steven Lin is using Dental Health Week to offer expert advice on how to avoid braces and fillings to vastly benefit overall health as well as the family budget.
"Encouraging good habits via simple things like diet and breathing from an early age can have a huge impact on whether a person will spend a large part of their childhood and elder years dealing with dental issues," said Dr Lin, principal dentist of Luminous Dentistry.
Nearly half of Australian children develop tooth decay before their 10th birthday. In NSW, the problem is even more acute with more children now hospitalised because of dental issues than asthma, epilepsy and ear, nose and throat infections.
Diets high in sugar and acid are often to blame, but avoiding certain foods is only part of the solution.
"Above and beyond brushing and flossing, there are many positive steps parents can take to improve their child's teeth," Dr Lin said.
• Nasal breathing: Mouth breathing dries the oral cavity, reducing the immune system's capacity to defend against bacteria.
• Whole foods including full fat: To include crucial fat soluble vitamins that strengthen teeth's natural immune defence system.
• Oral probiotics: Introduce 'good' bacteria to the mouth, balancing the oral environment and neutralising bacterial threats.
• Raw vegetables: Require a certain crunching action that promotes saliva, which is a natural tooth protection agent.
br> "The beauty of these solutions is that they are available to everyone. The problem is the community hasn't been well educated about them, and our profession needs to do better to spread the message of how simple the best cure – prevention – is," added Dr Lin.
br> Based in Long Jetty on the NSW Central Coast, Luminous Dentistry offers a range of functional and preventative approaches that can offer life-long solutions for ailments like misaligned teeth.
br> "Traditionally crooked teeth requires waiting for the adult teeth to set, before applying costly braces. But today when we understand what causes crooked teeth, including breathing, muscles and diet, there is an opportunity to prevent braces in our next generation," continued Dr Lin.
"Everyone thinks braces is the only cure for crooked teeth, but that's far from the case. In many cases, it's not even a cure because the problem can re-emerge. There's a range of alternative techniques, preventative options and exercises that can make a lasting difference to children's teeth," he added.
For more information and tips from Luminous Dentistry, visit luminousdentistry.com.au. Dental Health Week takes place this year from 5 to 11 August and is the Australian Dental Association's major annual oral health promotion event. Its aim is to educate Australians about the importance of maintaining good oral health.
Question: Why are dental treatments on the rise for children?
Dr Steven Lin: The short answer is a rise of low fat processed foods containing high amounts of sugar, refined flours and simple carbohydrates, and low fat grain fed cuts of meat lacking in crucial fat soluble vitamins. Everyone is aware of the traditional culprits like lollies and chocolates, but many snacks and meals that are marketed as 'healthy' options also contain huge amounts of sugar. These include certain breakfast cereals, yoghurts and juices. As parents get busier and work longer hours to make ends meet, there is inevitably less time to check nutritional information on the packaging – exposing them to being caught out by 'covert' sugars.
A diet high in sugary, processed foods will also most likely come at the expense of the foods we need to keep our teeth healthy and strong: Pasture raised full fat cuts of meat and organ meats, ferments such as kefir and sauerkraut, full fat dairy, and healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil and butter. Our teeth have a natural immune system and requires crucial fat soluble nutrients to function correctly. When children don't consume enough of these foods, their teeth become more vulnerable to decay.
Last but not least, poor dental hygiene, irregular brushing, flossing and visits to the dentist for professional cleans can encourage the perfect conditions for decay and harmful bacteria to flourish.
Question: What are the most common dental treatments for children?
Dr Steven Lin: In no particular order: fillings, orthodontics, tooth extraction and gingivitis (gum disease) treatments.
Question: How can parents prevent expensive dental treatments for their children?
Dr Steven Lin: First and foremost, Luminous advocates prevention as the best cure. There are many ways parents can avoid expensive treatments by teaching their children good habits from an early age. These include, but aren't limited to:
1. Healthy, balanced diet
2. Nasal breathing
3. Regular brushing and flossing
4. Limited use of pacifiers
The best part of these measures is they don't cost a cent and can save families thousands of valuable dollars!
Question: How does mouth breathing damage our teeth?
Dr Steven Lin: In general mouth breathing can lead to oxygen deprivation and weaker defence to bacteria by altering the oral microbiome, leaving the teeth and gums more vulnerable to decay and infection.
From a structural perspective, mouth breathing can be even more problematic. Mouth breathers often have low tongue posture, which can cause crooked teeth and the need for expensive correctional treatment.
Question: What foods are high in acid that damages our teeth?
Dr Steven Lin: Citrus fruits and juice derivatives, carbonated (fizzy) drinks, energy drinks, workout supplements, cereals, refined flour based breads and baked goods
Question: At what age should a child start brushing and flossing?
Dr Steven Lin: Daily brushing should begin from the appearance of the very first tooth, on average around six months of age. This can be done with a damp, soft cloth or very small toothbrush. Introduce a pea sized amount of toothpaste from about 18 months of age. Most children will need help brushing their teeth until they begin school.
Flossing should start from the time your child's teeth grow close enough to trap food. This should be performed daily from the start.
Question: What is the main message you'd like to spread for Dental Health Week?
Dr Steven Lin: We are passionate about the preventative benefits of a healthy diet and its ability to heal and prevent dental diseases, decay and crooked teeth. In my Internationally-acclaimed book, The Dental Diet, I dissect a fascinating body of cutting-edge research that shows how what we eat can dramatically affect not only the health of our teeth, but systems directly impacted by our mouth. For example, nasal breathing for deep restorative sleep, whole fat nutritive foods and probiotic factors for a balanced digestive system, crunching raw and fibrous vegetables like carrots promotes saliva, which helps to clean and protect the teeth.
The current rates of dental decay among children in Australia are deeply concerning to us. This should not be the case in a rich and blessed country like ours. Clearly, there is an issue with education around good dental habits and practice. Luminous doesn't merely seek to provide one-off cures and treatments for its clients. Our traditional view of dentistry won't change anything in the long run. We need proper awareness, and subsequently behavioural change, to prevent the problem before it's too late.
Interview by Brooke Hunter