Irish kids aren’t having a very good time of it. The first ever national study into exercise among primary school children (by Dublin City University and the GAA) has found that kids as old as 12 are unable to run, jump, throw, catch or even hit any type of sports ball properly due to inactivity.

And their teeth aren’t much better. The Irish Dental Association (IDA) estimates that 10,000 children have teeth extracted under general anaesthetic every year, which it dubs “a disgrace”.

The teeth are probably easier for parents to fix, but relying on the public dental service is looking like an increasingly bad idea, with children having to wait up to 12 years for their first dental screening.

The European Academy of Paediatric Dentistry recommends that babies have their first dental visit by their first birthday and then keep up regular visits. The only way to do this is with a private dental practice. Click here to see what we offer.

About half of children in Ireland have tooth decay by the time they are five, which can cause toothache and infections and impact sleep, nutrition, growth and behaviour. Decay can begin well before that age however — research on Scottish children in 2007 and 2008 found decay already present in a quarter of three-year-olds.

Most Irish children have their first dental visit at the age of seven or eight, as part of the school screening programme, but the IDA says thousands have to wait until they’re 12 because of a shortage of dentists in the public dental service.

It wants the current figure of 300 dentists assigned to treat children doubled, but that doesn’t look likely any time soon. IDA Chief Executive Fintan Hourihan said:

While the under-16 population has increased by 20% over the past decade to 1.1m, the number of dentists in the public dental service charged with looking after their oral health has dropped by 20% due to recruitment restrictions.

Apart from helping to prevent the early onset of tooth decay, taking your child to the dentist has other benefits including:

  • Helping them get used to seeing a dentist from an early age, thereby reducing the likelihood of future dental anxiety, which can harm long term dental health
  • Avoiding enamel fluorosis, a common condition where over exposure to fluoride in children younger than eight causes lifelong tooth staining. Parental advice on when to use toothpaste, what kind, and how much is the solution
  • Advice on brushing technique — parents should help children brush until they are around six years old, but the correct technique differs depending on their age