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New research shows need for improved toy safety

18 August 2009 Faculty of Medicine and Health of the University of Leeds

TOY makers need to urgently review their safety tests say scientists, after showing that children as young as three can have the bite force of the average dog.

Findings from research at the University of Leeds could be used to improve toy safety and prevent injury and even deaths from choking among the under fives.

Dr Gary Mountain, who led the UK’s first research into the bite force and dynamics of young children, says that the findings show a real need to introduce a bite-testing standard for toys.   He says that age labels on toys are not sufficient to prevent accidents. 

He explains: “Evidence shows that parents are not reading the warning labels.  Or if they do, then sometimes they think that the age labels on toys relate to a child’s developmental capability rather than the fact that the toy may pose a potential risk from having small parts.  In addition there is currently no standard that would safeguard children when biting and/or chewing toys or play products and breaking off pieces which may then be swallowed or inhaled”.

“The research was based the number of cases of young children admitted to hospital emergency departments after swallowing or inhaling small parts from objects and toys.   There is a real need to develop robust bite testing standards for children’s toys but until now we didn’t have the research on which to base them.”

Dr Mountain, Senior Child Health Lecturer and Deputy Head of the university’s School of Healthcare, collaborated with colleagues at the Leeds Dental Institute to design a novel user-friendly instrument to accurately test the bite force of more than 206 children aged three to five.  This age group includes some of those most likely to mouth bite and chew foreign objects.

Their research showed that the force of a child’s bite is affected by poor dental health, their weight and even their ethnicity.  

Dr Mountain has now received funding from the Yorkshire Enterprise Fellowship to develop a commercial version of the user friendly instrument to measure children’s bite forces.  The instrument will hopefully prove extremely useful for dentists and other clinicians working and researching with children in fields such as oral health, orthodontics and maxiofacial work. 

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