Little Teeth Truths: Back to school oral health tips for parents
When I think of the annual “back to school” time of the year, my mind goes back to a humorous commercial put out by an office supply store years ago in which a parent, pushing a shopping cart filled with school supplies is running and skipping gleefully throughout the store, followed by sad, forlorn children with their heads hanging low while the background music playing is the Andy Williams’ Christmas song classic, “IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR.” For most parents/guardians and even some children, I could only imagine that the start of a new year can be exciting and a tad bit stressful all at the same time. Personally, I know that I have heard my own friends relish in their excitement that the school year was about to begin, especially since summer break can be so challenging keeping their children occupied and entertained.
So….many adults have been out there for weeks on end checking off supply lists from their children’s respective schools, running around purchasing school uniforms/clothing/shoes since their little ones have grown so much, buying new lunch boxes, book bags, searching for the best deal for tablets, laptops….oh, and let’s not forget, planning the first day of school picture! I recognize that this “wonderful time of the year” is a rite of passage for each parent/guardian and their child. I also did not want this special moment of the year to go by without passing on some helpful hints and recommendations to parents in order to help maintain your child’s healthy, beautiful smile all throughout the year.
Through the years of practicing as a pediatric dentist, here are some helpful oral health tips that I have shared with the parents/guardians of my patients:
- IS IT TIME FOR A NEW TOOTHBRUSH?
In the midst of purchasing new shoes, clothes, backpacks, lunch boxes, etc., it may be time to purchase a new toothbrush for your child. The American Dental Association recommends that toothbrushes should be changed approximately every 3 months, (unless you are sick and it needs to be tossed out right away). If it is time to change toothbrushes, don’t forget to stop by the oral hygiene aisle at your nearest store when you are out school shopping.
- REMEMBER, BRUSH (AT LEAST) TWICE A DAY FOR TWO MINS
Now that the school year is upon us, families will be getting back into their regimented schedules. I realize that during the summer break months, sometimes schedules can become lax or not enforced. Maybe your child brushed once a day, let’s say in the morning and did not brush as often before bed, especially since they probably stayed up later due to not having a strict bed time like during the school year. I understand. It’s good to get back in the habit of having your children brush (or helping them) at least twice a day for two minutes. It is also good for them to have their teeth flossed once a day (preferably before bed), especially if their teeth are tight together and do not have space in between them. If you want to go even further, having your child brush their teeth immediately after they arrive at home after school or their after school care program would be a plus in addition to brushing in the morning and before bedtime.
- KNOW YOUR CHILD’S SCHOOL-YEAR CALENDAR
It is helpful to have access to your child’s school-year calendar especially when it comes to scheduling future dental visits. School absences have become a touchy and complicated topic over the years causing parents to be hesitant to schedule appointments during school days. At the same time, if your child needs to be seen by a dentist, especially if they need to have decayed teeth treated, putting off the appointments due to fear of missing school is not recommended. If that is your situation, attempting to schedule dental visits on days when schools are closed, or there is an early release might be warranted. Thus, having your child’s school year calendar accessible when on the phone or in person would be helpful. Some dental offices are savvy and have copies of local school district calendars ready to assist parents/guardians when scheduling appointments. And remember, if your child happens to have to visit their dentist during school hours, most offices have an “excuse form” that can be completed and given to you at the end of your child’s visit.
- PACKING LUNCH AND SNACKS
Along with purchasing new school supplies, getting ready to be inundated with homework assignments, preparing lunch and snacks can place a lot of pressures on parents/guardians. When sharing with parents, I encourage them to try to remember to provide a healthy, balanced diet for their little ones. Making sure that they have their sources of protein, fruits, vegetables and grains is very important. I will also encourage them to pack bottles of water and try to avoid juice boxes or other sugar sweetened beverages (SSB’s) as well as snacks that are very “sticky and tacky” in nature (i.e. fruit snacks). Snacks and food that are high in refined carbohydrates should be minimally consumed. If your child happens to eat purchased school lunches, take the time to sit down with them and discuss making healthy food choices. If you have tweens or teenagers that have access to vending machines in their schools, again, sit down and discuss with them about selecting healthy items for consumption.
- TRAUMA PREVENTION
It can be very scary and nerve-wracking to get that phone call from your child’s school that “there has been an accident”. With the dawning of a new school year, the opportunities for accidents to occur rises. From playground accidents to accidents on the playing field or court, your pediatric dentist is available to help manage any type of oral traumatic injuries that your child may sustain. Please do not hesitate to contact your child’s dentist if he/she suffers trauma to their oral structures. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s mychildrensteeth.org has information regarding what to do in the event of certain traumatic injuries. If your child participates in organized sports, especially those sports that are considered to be “contact sports” (i.e., football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, volleyball) or any sport where an object (ball, bat, etc.) or a person could damage the oral cavity, then a sports mouthguard is strongly recommended. Parents can find plastic mouth guards (that you boil or heat up in a microwave) in sporting goods stores. As children get older and have all permanent teeth (mouth is not going to change much), then having a custom sports mouthguard made by your dentist is suggested. Be mindful that custom sports guards can be more expensive than plastic sports mouth guards found in the store.
We, your dental professionals, your dental home are here to assist with all of your child’s oral health care needs. It is our goal to partner with you in making sure your child has a healthy and beautiful smile and is “picture ready” for this upcoming school year! Here’s to an awesome school year!
Dr. Paula L. Coates is a Board Certified pediatric dentist and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. She is an associate with Johnson Pediatric Dentistry of Bowie, Hyattsville, and Laurel, Md. She is a national spokesperson of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and has recently served as a member of the board of trustees. She has volunteered within the Academy and The National Dental Association. Dr. Coates is also involved with other community service organizations. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends as well as exploring all there is to offer while living in the DMV (Washington, D.C. area). You can find her on the web at www.johnsonpediatricdentistry.com.