As a parent of a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old, my family is fully immersed in the frenzy that goes along with heading back to school. The hustle and bustle often includes new clothes, new shoes, markers, glue, crayons, headphones, backpacks and haircuts, but a proper focus on oral health is often an after-thought. Why is a focus on oral health so important for your children this time of year? While school performance is most often tied to metrics such as amount of reading at home and getting a good night’s sleep, there is also a strong connection between a child’s oral health status and their overall school performance.
A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that “children with poorer oral health status were more likely to experience dental pain, miss school, and perform poorly in school.” In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 51 million hours of school instructional time are lost each year due to dental pain. Teenagers with dental pain were almost four times more likely to have lower GPAs than their peers.
If your family is like ours, adding one more item to your back to school “to-do” list can feel overwhelming, so here are my top three easy tips to make sure everyone’s teeth are ready for school.
#1: Create an Oral Hygiene Routine
Creating a daily oral hygiene routine, including brushing twice daily and flossing once daily, is extremely important. Establishing this routine early can set your children up for a lifetime of healthy smiles. Elementary school children can especially benefit from the use of an electric toothbrush because they lack the manual dexterity to properly clean their teeth without assistance. An added benefit is the built-in timer that tells them when the recommended two minutes of brushing time is complete. Also, adding a fluoride rinse at night can also offer added protection against tooth decay.
#2: Have a Routine Dental Check-Up
Twice-a-year dental check-ups are vital to maintaining a healthy smile. Not only does a professional `cleaning and fluoride application help to prevent tooth decay, but regular dental radiographs and examinations allow for early detection of any developing problems. Further, as children get older and start to see the eruption of permanent teeth, the placement of dental sealants on permanent molars also aids in the prevention of decay.
#3: Eat a Balanced Diet
Eating a balanced diet and limiting the intake of sugar are absolutely essential to maintaining good oral health. For context, in order to form a cavity, oral bacteria must have tooth structure and a source of sugar or carbohydrate present. Eating a healthy diet can help decrease the amount of sugars that are available for bacteria to use, and consequently limit their ability to form a cavity. That said, as a father of small children, I know that it is completely unrealistic to suggest that children never eat candy or drink juice. But, small changes such as only giving your child juice with meals instead of allowing them to have a cup of juice to sip from throughout the day can make a huge difference in preventing the formation of tooth decay.
These back-to-school oral health tips will help get your family off to a healthy start this school year.