Helen Skelton – celebrity mum ambassador for The Big Family Brush-Up

Helen Skelton is a British television presenter best known for her work on BBC programmes Blue Peter, Countryfile and the Olympic coverage. Helen is married to rugby player Richie Myler and together they have two sons, Ernie and Louis.

We’re delighted that Helen is getting behind our Big Family Brush-Up campaign and has shared below some of her insights and tips on how she and her husband care for their sons’ oral health.

1. Why is caring for your oral health important to you?

You never want to see your kids doing anything but smile and being happy. I’ve had tooth decay, I’ve had root canals - it’s not fun. No one enjoys painful and expensive trips to the dentist and I believe prevention is always better than cure so if I can get my kids into a good routine teeth-wise now, hopefully that will save them a lot of pain and pennies in the future. The world is obsessed with sugar, and I am conscious of this more now as a parent, but you can’t avoid the fact that they’re going to come into contact with it a lot, so it’s important to teach them the importance of good oral health now more than ever.

2. Did becoming a mum make you think differently about oral health and its importance?

Becoming a mum definitely made me think differently about oral health and its importance. I was the world’s worst offender at avoiding going to the dentist, and then as soon as I had kids, that changed. When I was pregnant I remember a nurse showing me pictures of children’s tooth decay, and I thought they were images from years ago, I didn’t realise it still occurred now, kids teeth are worse than ever. My generation just rely on quick fixes like veneers, but I don’t want my kids to have to go down that route.

3. At what age did you start to introduce an oral health routine to your sons?

My babies have both loved to chew anything and everything from a young age. I started brushing as soon as their first tooth appeared, and was able to start teaching Louis about oral health properly from 10 months, and Ernie from about 14 months – but it’s definitely easier with Louis (now 1) as he wants to copy his big brother (now 3). Louis has even got to the point where he’ll point and shout for the toothbrush, even though he’s only got two teeth, it’s great to see him copying Ernie and it definitely makes it easier for me as a mum.

4. Did you encounter any problems when you first started brushing your children’s teeth? Did you find it difficult to get your children to start brushing their teeth properly? What were the main problems?

My eldest son Ernie hates the taste of toothpaste, so we have to go through this whole routine of putting the paste on and then pretending to wash it off so he thinks the taste has gone. He doesn’t mind brushing in the evening as we’ve established it as part of his bedtime routine, but mornings can prove more difficult.

5. What tips and tricks do you find particularly effective in helping them to brush their teeth?

I find using a brushing egg timer with Ernie really useful, he loves watching the sand fall through as he brushes and sees it as a race. That keeps him engaged as he’s really competitive, so anything that’s a challenge he loves.

6. How do you think the way you manage your children’s oral health will change once they are ready to care for their teeth independently?

Myself and my husband are still very much in control as they are only one and three, we’re still in the stages of having to convince him to do it. But I’m very aware that give it a year or so and Ernie will hopefully be doing it himself, under our supervision, and I think if we’ve instilled it in him now than it should be easier for him to do that. I can’t imagine him having conversations with people without brushing his teeth so I’m hoping it will be a habit by then.

7. How important is it to you that your sons see the dentist regularly? Why is this?

Ernie has been to the dentist for simple check-ups, and he loves it! He loved the reclining chair and the big sunglasses, plus the dental nurse was amazing with children, he just thought it was a brilliant day out – I’m hoping it stays that way as he grows up.

8. What is your advice for parents who are struggling to get their children to adopt a good oral health routine?

I would say just try to turn it in to a game, keep it fun. I swear by the egg timer because it keeps him concentrating on something other than his teeth. Realistically, if you’re really struggling there’s always a gentle bribe – say two minutes of brushing equals 10 minutes play time. I like to keep behaviour charts for to monitor it, I work towards five stars meaning a treat – we’re currently at three! Personally, I don’t find negotiating works – my husband’s great at that but it never works for me!

9. How often do you take your sons to the dentist?

Once a year, I think the more regularly you take them the less daunting and dramatic it will be. I want to make it a regular part of their lives.

10. When it comes to foods that are bad for your oral health, such as the sugary treats kids so often love, how do you go about managing these into your children’s diets?

All kids love a sugary treat – but I try my hardest not to talk about or acknowledge them on a day-to-day basis. Of course I’m not naïve enough to think that they won’t come into contact with them as they grow up, and my eldest does have the occasional treat now and then. If he’s had a sugar overload I’ll try to distract him until he forgets about whatever it is he wants. Our fridge is always full of fruit; the boys love slices of melons, raspberries, apples and carrot sticks, so I’ll leave these out as I know they’ll be more likely to eat them.

11. Do you have a family history of oral health problems? Anything you’re worried about for your sons?

I’ve suffered from problems with my teeth in the past so I’m conscious to make sure my kids don’t experience the same. I avoid sugary drinks especially and hope my kids will too for the sake of their teeth.

12. Do you think attitudes to oral health are different in France, compared to the UK?

Attitudes to food are very different; they don’t do the regular snacking which is where a lot of people in the UK fall down. They’re more old fashioned with big, home cooked meals. Having said that, they do love their sugar and desserts.

13. Do you have any oral health regrets?

When I was in my twenties I used to eat multiple packets of sugary strong mints a week, and I regret that, I don’t touch them now. I live off toast now instead… apple, avocado, I think anything goes on toast!

14. Why are you supporting the Big Family Brush-Up?

Until I had kids I had no idea how bad children’s teeth can get, and how easily. I really took it for granted and think many others do too. There’s a lot more sugar in children’s diets than ever before and that goes hand-in-hand with a lot more pressure on parents to tackle this and do something about it. Being a parent is constantly trying to do the right thing by your child, you can be made to feel guilty over everything from bedtime to snacking. I don’t want parents to feel guilty over the fact that everyone struggles to teach brushing. Two minutes isn’t a long time and we shouldn’t let our children’s oral health routines fall by the wayside. Denplan from Simplyhealth’s brushing charts and oral health tips are such a big help to parents everywhere, anything that makes parenting a little easier is a big win in my books.

Helen Skelton