For many people, the idea of a trip to the dentist stirs up disturbing images of drills and fillings. But preventative steps can make the visit less of a traumatic experience.

THE message being sent out by dental nurses and dentists in Sussex is: Start early to keep your teeth healthy.

Dental nurses have been visiting schools in the Brighton and Hove area to get the message across to children about the importance of cleaning teeth regularly and limiting the intake of sugary food.

The idea is to get children into good habits which will last a lifetime.

New research published by the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF) has shown the number of children and adults with tooth problems is increasing.

One survey discovered about four per cent of two-year-olds have experienced some tooth decay and another found more than 20 per cent of three-year-olds had severe tooth decay in their front teeth.

This is believed to have been largely caused by sugary drinks in feeding bottles.

But, says the BDHF, extra care taken when young can help prevent problems developing in the future.

Basic steps include making sure children have plenty of calcium in their diet and using the right type of toothbrush.

The problem becomes more actute for adults who have to pay out for fillings and expensive work such as root canals and crowns.

The situation has led to dentists encouraging more people to join insurance plans aimed at giving them regular checks and advice about dental hygiene.

The theory is people who regularly keep a check on their teeth will have potentially expensive problems spotted sooner rather than later.

The Design Dentistry surgery in Duke Street, Brighton, is run by Peter Smith and Brian Small.

The surgery has recently thrown open its doors to NHS patients and is already building up a large client base.

The emphasis is increasingly turning to setting up basic, low-cost dental plans which work on preventative measures rather than deal with problems as they arise.

Dr Smith said: "It works out cheaper in the long term because if we can deal with patients early, the chances of problems in the future are less likely.

"Each of our patients have a tailor-made schedule drawn up to suit them which include regular tooth hygiene checks and treatments.

"If you can introduce children to dental care early, the principles of prevention can be applied so they can avoid gum disease and the need for fillings when adults.

"It makes visits to the dentist more enjoyable and removes the fear factor.

"We basically work on a patients' maintenance programme. We want to concentrate on giving people the time they need and the proper treatment.

"Obviously palliative treatments such as fillings will be dealt with but our long-term aim is to try and stop them from being needed in the first place."

According to the BDHF, about 74 per cent of people in the UK claim to clean their teeth twice a day. But two-thirds of people who do so, still have visible plaque deposits.

Most adults only change their toothbrush once a year in spite of recommendations that they be changed every three months.

Old brushes do not remove plaque as effectively and the build-up of bacteria can lead to increased risk of gum disease and other problems.

One in four people suffer from chronic bad breath and 19 out of 20 people suffer from gum disease at some point in their life.

But dental fear means three quarters of the population would rather put up with toothache than visit the dentist for an extraction.

Smoking can cause bad breath, gum disease, tooth staining and oral cancer.

Smoking and drinking account for the majority of cases of oral cancer, which kills more than 1,700 people every year.

Further details about the foundation are available on its web site at
Dr Smith can be contacted on 01273 711999.