Screen time damages children’s teeth

26th October 2022 | Posted by: Vanessa Giraud

In 2019 the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) published a report advising parents not to worry about screen time. Screen time itself is not a bad thing, the report suggests, so long as it’s under control.

Since then, we’ve had a whole pandemic. During the last two years, children have spent even more time using a screen. One outcome is that screens have been used more as a tool for learning, rather than entertainment, which is a positive.

While the RCPCH did not offer strict guideline it encourages a common-sense, responsible-parenting approach. This means that from one family to another how screens are used, and the boundaries set, will be as varied as the devices themselves.

picture of two children abusing screen time after dark.

Screen time report asks parents valid questions

With only limited research available, it’s perhaps too early to assess the full impact of screen time on our young population. There are negative associations, but that does not mean that screen time can’t be a positive experience. While the range of issues to consider is extensive, from toddlers to teenagers, cartoons to pornography, there are young people who use screens responsibly to research their homework, watch TED talks, or access on-line tutorials.

The daily challenge, however, is that modern parenting now includes monitoring access to screens and supervising content. Rather than being prescriptive about screen use, Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Promotion at the RCPCH, says we need to “let parents be parents”. This means that parents need to set expectations and boundaries for screen time.

The guiding questions for parents to think about are:

  • Is screen time in your household controlled?
  • Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
  • Does screen use interfere with sleep?
  • Are you able to control snacking during screen time?

Screen time damages children’s teeth

We need to tackle snacking.

It’s the mindless munching through whatever’s in the cupboard that’s the problem.

While games can keep both hands busy on a console, watching cartoons or videos does not. Most parents worry about the negative impact of screen time on children’s health. Although snacking is mentioned last on the list of four questions, it is a major concern – unhealthy snacks are a problem.

Setting screen time limits may also help reduce snacking.

With regard to eating, screen time poses two main problems:

In fact, the report concluded “there is moderate evidence for an association between screentime, particularly television screentime, and higher energy intake and less healthy diet quality including higher intake of energy and lower intake of healthy food groups”.

As parents, then, screen time can make it harder to take the children shopping. Requests for high sugar/low nutrition products advertised on-screen can be a source of disagreement or submission. And once the snacks are in the trolley, it’s easy to eat too many of them during passive screen time.

As part of the Childhood Obesity Plan, current government research investigates a ban on advertising food and drink high in salt, sugar and fat . If agreed, it needs to protect children across all media, not just television and print. It would be a help.

Then, if children eat healthy snacks, or don’t snack at all while they’re using a screen, it’s better for their health.

Sound advice from the report

screen time pros and cons

The report has one clearly stated recommendation based on scientific research:

Suggestions to encourage positive screen experiences include:

Take time to talk it through

Parenting decisions can be hard, and modern life is presenting all kinds of challenges that are hard to keep up with. Discussion and communication are key. For screen time to stay healthy, families need to establish clear expectations, including routines for eating and socialising together.

Sometimes it can help to talk to professionals too, and seek support. For example, if you’re worried that your child is snacking too much, your dentist can spot signs of dental decay during an examination. As well as recommending healthy eating, the dentist can strengthen tooth enamel by applying fluoride.

Access to dental care for children

To support government initiatives to help children to have healthy teeth, some of our practices host regular children’s days. ‘Contact Us’ to ask about availability in your area.

Or why not try the live chat button on your screen?

POSTED IN: Children


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