In a recent study published in in the Journal of Adolescent Health, it was revealed that as many as one in six parents had allowed their children to drink alcohol before the age of 14. What’s more, in a survey of over 100,000 children around 14 per cent admitted to having drunk alcohol when they were only 11.
As we know, gum disease and dental decay are risks associated with alcohol consumption, conditions that can be exacerbated in children’s still-developing bodies. Early alcohol consumption can also pave the way for bad alcohol habits in later life, which may ultimately cause more serious health issues in the future; the risk of oral cancer, for example, is approximately six times higher in those that drink compared to non-drinkers.
However, many parents believe that by letting their children drink alcohol when they are young will teach them how to drink responsibly – but the research seems to suggest that there is no actual evidence to support this claim. Indeed, almost all research showns that hose who start drinking early are more likely to do badly at school, have behaviour issues, and develop alcohol problems in adulthood. And this, in turn, often leads to complications with their oral and general health.
This is further exacerbated in the UK by the well-known deficits in children’s oral healthcare, as well as the general lack of education surrounding the importance of maintaining a good oral health routine from a young age, and the current concerns around sugar consumption and its effects on children’s oral health.
Separately, these problems are enough for the dental profession to compete with, but combined they have become almost insurmountable. If the trend continues, and children begin drink alcohol at an increasingly early age, the problems will eventually become overwhelming for the professional health community – and we will likely see the dire consequences in the next generation of patients.
As with other children’s oral health issues, the best way to reduce the risk of alcohol related complications in younger people, is to support parents through education and advice. By making them aware of the potential problems allowing their children to drink may cause, they will be better able to adapt their behaviour. It is also important to address their own habits during their own routine check ups, to ensure that they do not set a bad example for their children through their own behaviour.
The best way for us to move forward is to encourage our patients to take their oral health into their own hands. Only in this way can we make a significant difference. Of course, as we all recognise, we too need support to be able to do this, but we can make the first steps now, and easily. So we should talk to patients, discuss these issues openly and honestly and be prepared to offer our advice and expertise when it is needed. That way, we can address issues early on. With alcohol consumption and children’s oral health, certainly, early can make all the difference.