When preparing kids for a successful 2022-23 school year, getting health check-ups should also be on your to-do list. That includes dental screenings or exams.
Tooth decay can be painful if left untreated, and painful teeth will affect a child’s performance in school. A child’s oral health can also affect their overall health.
Here is a back-to-school to-do list for your child’s oral health:
1. Get a Dental Checkup
Regular check-ups are essential to follow your child’s growth and development. Before taking your child to the dentist, explain what will happen: The dentist will do a thorough exam, take pictures of their teeth (x-rays) and perform a cleaning. They may also apply fluoride to the teeth, talk with you and your child about oral health care and make treatment recommendations.
The good news is that dental care for kids has changed a lot in recent years! If you don’t remember your childhood dental visits fondly, don’t fret; new materials and techniques are designed to make dental experiences more positive.
2. Brush and Floss Daily
Bacteria in the mouth live in a sticky film called plaque. Brushing removes that plaque and takes bacteria with it. That makes it harder for caries (tooth decay) to happen.
It is important for parents to brush their child’s teeth twice a day for 2 minutes with fluoridated toothpaste until the child is 8 years old. By that age, a child hopefully has the skills necessary to brush on their own under parents’ supervision.
Floss with your child every night as soon the spaces between teeth start closing.
Parents play a critical role in keeping kids on track. Create a tooth brushing routine and praise your child for brushing well. Make brushing fun!
3. Have a Healthy Diet
To understand why diet is important, think about what causes caries. It is an infectious disease caused by bacteria in the mouth. The bacteria breaks down sugars, which then produce acid. Over time this acid breaks down enamel, which is the thin, white outer covering of a tooth. This can lead to holes in the teeth (cavities). As caries progress, they can cause pain and tooth loss.
Bacteria in the mouth need food to survive – and their favorite food is sugar. By limiting sugar, you give the bacteria less fuel to produce acids. It also helps to avoid food and drinks that contain a lot of acids.
Important tips for parents:
- Provide good snacks: Fresh fruits, veggies, cheese, nuts and pretzels are options to consider.
- Limit sugar intake: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that children consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day.
Pay special attention to what your child drinks. They should drink water throughout the day. Tap water is a better option than bottled water because it is more likely to contain fluoride. According to the CDC, drinking fluoridated water keeps teeth strong and reduces cavities by about 25 percent.
As for milk and juice, save those for mealtimes – and try to limit juice to once a day at most. Choose 100 percent natural juice and limit the amount you give to:
- 4 ounces for a child age 1-3
- 6 ounces for a child age 4-6
- 8 ounces for a child age 7-18
Be sure to talk to your child about health risks linked to sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda and sports drinks. Having these drinks regularly can lead to diabetes and obesity. It can also lead to painful dental problems. Sugary drinks and diet drinks also contain high levels of acid that erode the enamel on teeth.
4. Focus on Prevention
In addition to the tips listed above, parents may want to consider these preventive measures:
- Sealants: A sealant is a thin, clear protective coating placed on the chewing surface of the posterior teeth (the teeth toward the back of the mouth). The sealant bonds to the enamel and can last for years. It goes into the deep grooves of the teeth and prevents bacteria from getting caught in those grooves. Sealant placement is a safe and effective way to prevent or reduce tooth decay for years.
- Mouthguards: If your child is involved in contact sports, it is important to prevent dental trauma. Make sure your child wears a mouth guard, even during practice.
Remember that many dental problems are preventable. With these simple steps, you can help your child keep their smile healthy and bright throughout their school years.