Protecting Babies’ Teeth

Protecting Babies' Teeth

Dr Yang Yanqi (back row, 2nd from left) in discussion with parents of preschoolers
Baby Expo consultation desk

Good oral health starts from infancy, as dentists are well aware. But getting that message to parents and caregivers is both a challenge and a necessity: many children do not visit a dentist until primary school age, when problems may already be entrenched. A project in the Faculty of Dentistry is working to change that situation.

The project, led by Dr Yang Yanqi, is reaching out to three groups: preschool children aged 3-6 and their teachers and parents, infants aged 0-3 and their parents, and antenatal women.

The breadth of coverage was motivated by several research findings in Hong Kong that raised the alarm about young children's oral health. Half of preschoolers surveyed had cavities (dental caries), and about 80 per cent of young adults surveyed had malocclusion (irregular tooth and jaw development which can be related to such things as sucking on objects during childhood), including 33 per cent who required expensive corrective treatment.

On the positive side, breastfeeding was confirmed to be associated with normal oral development, and parents' knowledge of good oral habits was found to be related to children's oral health.

"We want to empower families to prevent and arrest dental problems during early childhood so children can avoid serious problems later on that could be painful, costly to correct and reduce quality of life," Dr Yang said.

She and her team of staff and students launched three campaigns in 2012-13. In a Student KE Project supported by the HKU KE Fund 2011-12, they reached out to pregnant women through workshops and consultation booths at Tsan Yuk Hospital's antenatal clinic, providing women with information on children's and their own oral health.

In a Student KE Project supported by the HKU KE Fund 2012-13, families with infants aged 0-3 were targeted through a baby expo, where the faculty gave a talk and provided information and individual consultations to visitors. A similar exercise was held for World Oral Health Day (March 20) at the Prince Philip Dental Hospital, and the faculty plans to make it an annual event.

Finally, in an outreach service programme supported by the Health Care and Promotion Fund of the HKSAR Government's Food and Health Bureau, about a thousand 3-6 year olds were given oral examinations and education about oral health, in a joint project with the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children.

The materials developed for the three campaigns are available on the faculty's website and Facebook page.

The campaigns have got the ball rolling on improving young children's oral health but they are not the only beneficiaries. "Parents can also benefit from being more aware of their own oral health," Dr Yang said.

Dr Yang Yanqi and her team received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2013 of the Faculty of Dentistry for 'Improving Children's Oral Health and Development by Terminating Poor Oral Habits and Promoting Healthy Ones'. The list of team members can be found here.