Policing the mouth at home: tooth brushing and sugar consumption

Yin-Ling Lin, Peter Callery

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Children with a cleft lip and/or palate (CL/P) have poorer oral health than those without the condition. Poor oral health can affect children’s quality of life particularly for those born with a CL/P, due to its implications for future treatments. This study set out to explore parents and children’s experience in managing oral health at home to unravel the challenges in caring for the teeth of for children with a CL/P. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with children of age between 5 to 11 and their parents. Fifty-one per cent of those invited were interviewed including twenty-two parents and sixteen children. The principles of thematic analysis were adopted to analyse the data. Parents of children with a CL/P could be highly motivated to maintain their children’s oral health but some seemed to find it challenging to enact their intentions into everyday practices. Parents and children showed awareness of the importance of brushing teeth and reducing sugar consumption in caries prevention. Tooth brushing was often more strictly enforced and described as being used to compensate when sugar was consumed. This shows that, in managing children’s oral health, policing tooth brushing is than reducing sugar consumption. This might be partly due to sugar being used to bring harmony and introduce power into parent-children relationship. Furthermore, tooth brushing was described as embedded in their daily routines and therefore ‘norm’ is established. Sugar consumption, however, was often portrayed as occasional ‘treats’ and thus might be harder to regulate as deviating from the ‘norm’.
This is the first stage of a feasibility study which set out to help families with children with a CL/P manage oral health. The qualitative data collection has completed and the preparation for the intervention has been completed.
In the first stage, one-to-one interviews were carried out to explore parents' and children's experience in managing oral health at home. An implementation intentions-based intervention has been prepared and will be disseminated to participants during clinical visits.
This research suggests that parents are the primary enablers of children's oral health. Parents of children with a CL/P are highly motivated to care for their children's teeth but they sometimes struggle to enact this intention into practice. Therefore, dental practitioners should be equipped to facilitate parents to look after their children’s teeth. More specifically, this paper suggests that reducing sugar consumption can be overlooked in managing children’s oral health at home for good reasons. The wider implication is that creating an established ‘healthy lifestyle’ can be problematic because it assumes people choose their own lifestyle but overlooks other contributing factors.
Sociological relevance:
This paper presents an empirical research exploring the experience of managing the oral health of children with a CL/P. The observation that tooth brushing was prioritised in parents' and children's interviews could be relevant to the Sociology of food and Sociology of Health and Illness. Children with a CL/P and their parents might have been subjected to medical discourse to a greater extent than those without the condition and they might have been expected to be more aware of the prevention of caries. However, parents use sugary snacks or ‘treats’ to express emotion for their children and negotiate children’s behaviours and therefore might find it harder to regulate than tooth brushing, which often embedded in their daily routines.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15 Jun 2016
EventBSA Medical Sociology Conference - University of Aston, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Sept 20169 Sept 2016


ConferenceBSA Medical Sociology Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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