Spring clean their health

Christine Kempell asks the experts for their essential advice

Interview, Health

It’s another New Year and time to start thinking about those resolutions. Perhaps yours is to exercise more. Or maybe you’ve decided to clear the clutter from your home and made a solemn vow not to eat Brussels sprouts ’til next December’ (at least you’re guaranteed not to break that one).

This year, why not make your resolution to take a good look at your children’s health? Check out what our experts say about the kind of things we need to do to keep the nippers in tip-top condition for the year ahead.

The GP

Dr Anna Zickerman-Quinn
What can we do to keep our kids in the best possible health?

Encourage them to play outdoors when the weather allows – keeping them physically active is key. Ensure they consume a healthy, well-balanced diet and plenty of water. Avoid excessive use of TV and computer games. Quality time with parents, family and friends is the recipe for a happy, harmonious child. Also try to make sure they get enough sleep so they do not wake up tired.

How much exercise do you recommend children have?
This depends on their age. Exercise does not have to be formal but should form a part of play, chasing round the house, cycling to the park or dancing to music. General recommendations are that children should be formally active between one to two hours per day, depending on their age. Exercise allows them to work their motor skills, balance, hand-eye co-ordination and strength. Playing on computer games do not count!

Do you advise kids to have regular health checks?
Certainly in the beginning, as a child develops it is important to make sure nothing is missed. As they grow older their school usually arranges regular check ups, which takes that onus off the parent.

The dentist

Dr T D Griffiths
How often should children visit the dentist?

Ideally you should take your kids to the dentist every six months but if you have any worries then don’t hesitate to call sooner. Dentists are always happy to see children sooner rather than later to address any concerns. Be prepared to re-arrange though if they aren’t in the right frame of mind to visit the dentist, especially when they are very little.

What age should kids switch from baby toothpaste to the real stuff?
Adult toothpaste should be used from 22 months old as the adult tooth enamel is formed under gums then. Fluoride mouthwash is good when they get older, but there’s no need to floss until adulthood.

When is a good time to start them with braces? Do all kids need them?
Dentist usually assess for orthodontic treatment at nine years and again at 12- to 14 years. Fixed braces are the gold standard, usually fitted at around 12 years of age and they are worn for at least 18 months, but not all children will need them.

What are the causes of dental problems in children?
Problems with diet mostly. It is so important for children to maintain a healthy diet for their teeth. Some children still have baby teeth at 14 years of age so it’s well worth looking after them.

The optometrist

Dr N Habash
What are the typical problems that children have with their eyes?

The most common problems are short and long sightedness, crossing eyes, lazy eyes and infections. Problems are usually detected by a routine eye test carried out by a qualified ophthalmologist.

How often should they have their eyes tested?
The first examination is usually carried out at around four years of age. Depending on the findings of this initial test of vision, colour and depth perception the specialist will then advise when the next test should be carried out.

Will kids damage their eyes if they watch too much TV or play too many computer games?
They will not necessarily damage their eyes but they might suffer from eye strain or experience discomfort and dryness. if they watch TV or video games all the time. It’s best to limit the use of these anyway.

The podiatrist

Joanne Morris
What are the typical problems that children encounter with their feet and how do you treat them?

The most common problems children encounter are verrucae, athlete’s foot, plantar juvenile dermatitis (caused by sweaty feet) and ingrowing toenails. Verrucae usually disappear on their own after a while, but they can be painful, so treatment may be necessary. Over the counter cures are effective but may take some time, in which case regular visits to a qualified podiatrist may be recommended. Treatments include application of salicylic acid or freezing with liquid nitrogen, but these treatments can be uncomfortable.

Any natural alternatives?
A totally holistic, natural cure for verrucae is banana peel, believe it or not! Just scrape the inside of a banana peel onto a plaster and place it over the verrucae, change the plaster every day and after a few days it will turn black and fall off. Athlete’s foot can be treated with anti-fungal cream but good hygiene helps: changing socks and drying the feet, making sure they don’t get sweaty and wearing natural fibres like cottons and wool rather than synthetic ones.

Does the type of footwear that your kids wear effect the health of their feet?
Yes it does, especially when the feet are growing. It is important to get properly fitted shoes to make sure the feet and toes have enough room, and also that there is good support for the arches. Crocs and flip-flops are good for short periods of time but if the foot is not properly supported then problems can occur in the lower back and knees.

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