Hezekiel Tupuola, 4, brushes his teeth at Victory Square Kindergarten as part of a new scheme which aims to improve the oral health of preschool children. By the age of five, 42 per cent of children in Nelson and Marlborough have some decay, and it is one of the most common diseases in young children in the region. Photo: Kate Russell.

Kindy kids get brushing

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Good tooth-brushing habits are starting early at three Nelson Tasman kindergartens.

Victory Square, Nelson South and Laura Ingram Kindergartens are participating in a two year oral health project, which has been launched by Nelson Marlborough Health and the Nelson Tasman Kindergarten Association, with the support of Soroptimist International of Nelson, who has funded a two-year supply of toothbrushes and toothpaste for each kindergarten.

The programme, which has already been running in Marlborough for the last two years, not only aims to improve the oral health of children, but support staff and families to understand and promote regular brushing, healthy food and drink choices, and enrolment in Nelson’s free Community Oral Health Service.

Victory Square Kindergarten teacher Luise Swift says they have a tooth-brushing station set up, and every child has their own brush.

She also says it’s not just about tooth-brushing – they are also educating children and families about healthy, sugar-free snacks and drinks, and make tooth-brushing songs part of their mat times.

“The kids are now into the routine of brushing their teeth when they arrive at kindergarten, and we’ve had a lot of parents doing it here with them, too,” says Luise. “It’s busy, but what we are getting out of it is worth it.”

Esme Palliser, Oral Health Educator with Nelson Marlborough Health’s Community Oral Health Service, says their goal is to teach children how to care for their teeth and prevent decay, and also encourage greater awareness and involvement by families.

They have also taught kindergarten teachers how to recognise the early signs of decay so that children can then be referred to clinics.

“Teachers are hugely influential – if anyone can make tooth-brushing a fun, regular part of a child’s day, they can, as well as encourage healthy habits among the families that they see,” says Esme.

By the age of five, 42 per cent of children in the Nelson Marlborough region have some decay, and it is one of the most common diseases in young children in the region.

“People might not be aware just how devastating this can be for children. Baby teeth are very important and essential for the development of adult teeth,” says Esme. “Without healthy baby teeth, young children are at risk of not being able to eat properly, speak properly and their self-esteem and socialisation can really suffer.”