Half of UK children fib about brushing their teeth

Barely a third of UK parents supervise their children’s brushing

Almost half of UK children fib to some degree about brushing their teeth, with a fifth trying to trick their parents into thinking they’ve done the job properly, according to a new survey investigating the toothbrushing habits of the nation.

This may come as no surprise to parents, but the consequences of neglecting our children’s teeth are dire – in 2014-15 some 40,970 surgical procedures were carried out on children for their teeth at a cost of £35 million, all to address a health problem which is entirely preventable. Figures released just last week from NHS Digital showed that in the year to this March twice as many children under 10 were admitted to hospital for tooth decay as those treated for broken arms.

The tooth brushing study was commissioned by a consortium of dentists behind Brushlink – the first smartphone ‘tooth brushing tracker’ that works with any toothbrush.

More than 2000 people were surveyed and it was revealed that 48% of UK kids fibbed ‘all the time’ or ‘occasionally’ by telling their parents they had brushed their teeth when they hadn’t. A fifth tried to make it look like they had cleaned their teeth by adopting ruses such as wetting their toothbrush.

The most effective way to ensure kids have cleaned their teeth is to supervise their brushing, and dental health experts recommend that children should be supervised at tooth brushing time until they are eight years old.

It is recommended that children’s teeth are brushed at least twice a day, in the morning and before bedtime. Drinks after bedtime should be limited to water so that children do not go to sleep with any sugar on their teeth.

The study found that barely a third of children’s brushing is supervised twice a day, with an alarming 13% of parents saying they have never supervised their children’s tooth brushing.

But parents want to improve their children’s oral health – two-thirds of parents said they would be likely to buy a device that would provide information about how long and how well their children were brushing their teeth. Providing this sort of support to parents is one of the reasons why award-winning dentist Dr Dev Patel invented Brushlink – a dental coaching device and app. The device is the first that can track and coach people on brushing frequency, duration and angles while making this data available to dentists if consented – and it works with any toothbrush, manual or electric.

Brushlink has also been built to provide a brushing score each time it is used, which makes it great for families – parents and kids can compete with each other to see who is the ‘best brusher’. The score is displayed along with ‘in-brush’ coaching tips and hints via a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone app; however, it also stores data for up to three months in case the user does not have a phone in the bathroom.

The survey also found that half of UK adults are missing a quarter of their teeth when they brush and that six in 10 have never been shown by a dental care professional how to brush properly. Almost a quarter felt that a member of their household had received dental treatment for something which might have been prevented with effective brushing.

Dr Dev Patel, Founder and CEO of Brushlink, said:

“By instilling good oral health techniques in children while they are young we are not only saving them from painful, costly and ultimately unnecessary treatment, but we are also setting them up for a healthier mouth into adulthood. As kids we would have all fibbed about cleaning our teeth, but how much keener might we have been if there was a way to make the process fun and competitive? Brushlink does this – it brings fun to tooth brushing while at the same time teaching our children how to brush correctly, and providing their dentist with information vital to helping them maintain good oral health.”

Professor Elizabeth Kay MBE, Foundation Dean Peninsula Dental School, Oral Health Topic Expert for NICE and a Brushlink Scientific Committee member, commented:

“I am on record as saying that if tens of thousands of children a year were admitted to hospital to have any other body part removed under general anaesthetic, because of a disease which was wholly preventable, there would be riots on the streets. Yet somehow we accept it with teeth. In my mind products such as Brushlink, and apps like Brush DJ, are vital because they relate to children via technology in a way in which they find compelling and engaging – and they get results. The Brushlink device will be a boon to parents who care about their children’s oral health. It will make it easy and fun for their children to do what they need to do to stay healthy. Which is what every parent wants. “