Sharpen those pencils and set your morning alarm; summer is over and we’re back to school! In all the hustle and bustle of getting back into the swing of your school year routine, don’t let dental health fall to the wayside! Evidence is strong that dental problems can negatively affect kids in school. That’s why it’s so important to keep your kids’ teeth strong and be sure they’re keeping up with good home care habits even as their schedules get busy again! Here are a few ways you can help.
Making Time for Back to School Mouth Maintenance
Great oral health starts at home. While regular cleanings and dental health checks are central to preventing dental disease, we probably only see your kids a few times per year at most. Between visits, it’s on you to be sure their teeth and gums stay healthy. No surprises, this means twice daily brushing and once daily flossing.
Keeping up with that routine can get complicated when you’re trying to get everyone out the door and make it to school on time! Many of our school-age patients admit that they skip brushing in the mornings before school. Sometimes it’s a simple issue of motivation. More often, they feel pressed for time and feel like they just can’t squeeze in the two minutes to brush.
If your child tends to skip brushing before school, have them try making it the very first thing they do when they wake up. They could also brush right after breakfast if that works better. It’s all about finding a routine that feels doable for them. For those repeat offenders who just can’t seem to make it happen, keep an emergency brushing kit in the car or in their backpack. Even brushing in the car without toothpaste is better than nothing! The idea is just to break up plaque build-up before it can damage the teeth.
On the other hand, many kids seem to have trouble remembering to brush before bed. A toothbrush should ideally be the last thing to touch your teeth before bed. That means waiting until after dinner and dessert to brush, and then remembering not to snack afterward! Young students may still rely on their parents to help them remember to brush before bed, but by middle school they might not want to hear it anymore.
Unfortunately, that’s when many kids run into a perfect storm for dental problems. They tend to want more autonomy, but suddenly don’t want to “waste” time doing things like flossing their teeth. High schoolers often report late night study sessions that disrupt their self-care routine and have them nodding off over homework instead. It’s also when they tend to do a lot more snacking, leading to more plaque. Kids around middle and high school age are likely wearing braces, too. Talk about a recipe for disaster!
Give Your Kids the Essentials
So what can you do to fight back? First of all, encourage your kids to establish and follow a healthy home care routine. Talk to them about what they think would help them stay motivated, and when brushing and flossing might fit best into their schedules. They can set an alarm on their phones to remind them or put a Post-It on the mirror if that would help. Younger kids may respond well to a sticker chart with rewards for a job well done. Brainstorm with them and follow their lead!
Then, take out the guess work. Old fashioned manual toothbrushes can actually be fairly technique sensitive, and most kids just don’t brush well. An electric toothbrush takes out the guess work and ensures a great brush every time. We recommend the Philips Sonicare. (And you can pick one up at your next cleaning, right here in our office!) Flossing can be even trickier to master, especially for younger kids. Floss picks can sometimes help, but a water flosser like the WaterPik might be your best bet for success.
An electric toothbrush and a water flosser are absolute musts for kids with braces or any kind of appliances! Flossing orthodontic work is difficult and time consuming. Let’s face it: it’s just not very likely to happen every day. Getting kids the right equipment for the job will not only make things easier, thereby increasing the likelihood it will happen, but it will also help them do it right!
Keep Lunches Smile-Smart!
One of the best ways you can help keep your kids’ teeth in great shape throughout the school year is to pack smart lunches. The foods they eat during the school day will likely sit on their teeth for hours before it gets cleaned off. Swishing well with water after eating can help, as can chewing sugar-free gum… but most schools don’t allow gum chewing, and your kiddo might not remember to swish after meals.
Obviously we will encourage you to skip the usual offenders. Everyone knows sugary treats can hurt your teeth. But a cookie after lunch probably won’t actually do as much damage as something like sipping Gatorade all day or drinking sodas. Steer kids clear of sweet beverages, as these not only have sugar, but also tend to be super acidic.
Check out this previous post for some ideas on tooth-friendly foods. In general, roughage like apples and carrot sticks are great choices, as are nuts and lean proteins. Raisins are a surprising dental health superfood and a nice addition to any lunchbox.
If your kiddo has braces, be mindful of foods that may get stuck in their brackets! We don’t want to give them any extra work getting rid of stuck food if we can avoid it. Unfortunately, some of the healthy choices may also be off the menu for brace faces. Those carrot sticks could pop a bracket off! Be mindful of your orthodontist’s recommendations about foods to avoid while your child is undergoing treatment.
As always, if you have any questions about helping your child keep their teeth super healthy throughout the school year, we are here for you! Check when your kids had their last dental cleanings and be sure to call us and get them caught up if necessary. Happy back to school and keep smiling, Orlando!