Three hours of computer use each day is enough to put a teenager at risk of poor oral health, a new study reveals.
An examination of more than 1,500 18-year-olds showed those who spend more time on computers are significantly more likely to neglect their oral health.
Researchers found those that spent longer on a computer were less likely to brush their teeth, floss and visit the dentist. The results are particularly worrying for boys, where twice-daily brushing dropped below 50% for those with excessive computer use.
Further findings discovered that youngsters with excessive computer use are up to 25% more likely to suffer from bleeding gums, and almost twice as likely to be absent from school because of dental pain.
Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, believes the results could call for education about the dangers excessive computer use to be included in educational programmes promoting healthy lifestyles.
Dr Carter says: “There is growing evidence to suggest that computer use is linked with a number of health problems for teenagers. Much of the attention in the past has focussed on its relationships with obesity, smoking, drinking and changes in behaviour. However, we are now seeing signs that it could affect a person’s oral health as well.
“While the internet and computer games can often prove a necessary and important distraction, it is important that children prioritise their health. Brushing for two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste is the most effective way they can keep their mouth clean and healthy and stay free of dental disease.
“There is an urgent need for more education; both on the consequences of excessive computer use, and the benefits of maintaining good oral hygiene. These need to be communicated to children and families before it begins to negatively effect their health and wellbeing.”
Further findings from the study revealed the longer teenagers spend on a computer, the more sugar they consume.
The amount and frequency of fizzy drinks, juices with added sugar and snacking all increased for those with more than three hours of computer time a day.
These adolescents were also more likely to skip breakfast and eat less fruit and vegetables.
“Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease for children in the UK and it is caused by having too much sugar,” adds Dr Carter.
“The harm caused by sugar is clear to see. It is resulting in thousands of children across Britain having fillings, and in the worst cases, rotten teeth removed. It’s a heart-breaking situation because the reality is that tooth decay is largely preventable.
“By cutting out snacking and keeping sugar consumption to mealtimes, teeth are able to recover and are far less prone to tooth decay. Replacing sugar with healthier options should also be highly encouraged. Fizzy drinks cause a real risk and should be replaced with milk or water as a tooth-friendly alternative.”
In England, nearly a half (46%) of 15-year-olds and a third (34%) of 12-year-olds have obvious signs of tooth decay.
Last year, the NHS England spent more than £50 million extracting children’s teeth.