Over 1.5 million free toothbrushes and toothpastes have now been distributed to preschoolers and their whānau across the country through a national initiative aiming to improve the oral health of young children.
Research shows that poor oral health in early childhood leads to poor oral health in adulthood. The initiative aims to promote and improve toothbrushing among children under five, specifically those from low-income households and Māori and Pacific whānau. Products are distributed through Well Child Tamariki Ora providers (including Whānau Āwhina Plunket), Kaupapa Māori and Pacific-led healthcare providers and immunisation outreach providers.
“A free toothbrush and toothpaste are some of the most important things we can give our little ones as poor oral health is largely preventable, but prevention must start early. The evidence shows us that brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste makes a significant difference to giving children a good start in life,” says Dr Riana Clarke, National Clinical Director Oral Health, Manatū Hauora and Te Whatu Ora’s Acting Clinical Advisor, Oral Health.
“Providing products for the whole whānau also encourages everyone to brush their teeth - adults model good toothbrushing behaviour to children and toothbrushing becomes a whānau activity.
“We know from The New Zealand Health Survey that toothbrushing rates are poor among the groups of children targeted by this initiative. With many struggling to meet living costs, this initiative is also meeting a real need. There is often huge excitement from the children as they love getting their own toothbrush with a character on it.”
A final evaluation of the initiative is underway. However early feedback from providers shows that it allows providers to engage with whānau on their broader hauora and wellbeing, when giving out the products. They support whānau to identify and access the assistance they need, which strengthens provider and whānau relationships.
Dr Riana Clarke also has some top toothbrushing tips for parents and caregivers.
“Looking after the health of baby teeth is so important because healthy baby teeth are important for the health of permanent teeth as well. Children should brush their teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. At least one of those times, their teeth need to be brushed by an adult up until the age of eight and everyone in the family should be using fluoride toothpaste with half a pea sized amount of paste used for under-fives and a pea sized amount used for older children.”
Children should spit out after brushing but not rinse their mouth.
Brushing teeth forms part of a strategy to keep teeth healthy along with eating and drinking healthy foods. Drinks low in sugar such as water and non-flavoured milk are recommended.