Back to School: Reexamining Oral Health Habits

The beginning of a new school year provides parents with opportunities to reexamine oral health habits that may have been more relaxed during the summer. Building and maintaining beneficial self-care habits are especially important for children, because the habits they practice at a young age are likely to last a lifetime. 

We particularly think about healthy smiles at this time of year, because healthy smiles can improve our children’s confidence and classroom successes. Conversely, unresolved dental problems can be painful and embarrassing and can cause children to have a difficult time participating or concentrating. Serious tooth decay can also affect overall health and lead to problems eating, speaking, and learning. 

Everyone wants their children to succeed at school, so try these strategies.  Pack your student a healthy lunch. Limit sugary snacks and high-starch or refined carbohydrate foods (which include chips, pretzels, cookies, white bread, and dried fruit). Send milk or water instead of juice as a lunchtime beverage. The bacteria that cause tooth decay thrive on simple sugars, especially those in sticky foods and drinks. Schedule regular dental appointments. Encourage children to brush with fluoride toothpaste twice a day, gently brushing teeth for two minutes each time and paying special attention to the gum line, and floss teeth at least once a day.

Enforcing good oral health habits is no easy task. Delta Dental received responses from 1,322 parents of children ages 12 and under to a national children’s oral health survey in December 2017. Survey results show that parents worry more daily about their child’s oral health (39 percent) than they do about school performance (25 percent) or physical activity (24 percent). Results also indicate that many children are not following recommended guidelines for brushing and flossing teeth, potentially leading to oral health problems. Seventy-eight percent of parents confessed that their child’s oral health isn’t as good as it could be, with 64 percent disclosing that their child currently has oral health issues (31 percent with cavities). 

The survey suggests that parents are more likely to say that getting their child to floss regularly (45 percent) or brush their teeth (37 percent) is challenging than they are to say this about getting their child to complete homework on time (25 percent).  One way to encourage brushing teeth for a full two minutes each time is by using a toothbrush timer. Delta Dental offers a free mobile app to make tooth brushing more fun for children. The app is optimized for smartphones and tablets and is available for download in the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.  

While parents responding to the survey shared that their children’s oral health is a priority over their own, our own habits show our children what we value. When our children see us taking care of our own teeth and gums, they are more likely to develop positive attitudes about preventive oral health practices and regular dental office visits.

Before your calendar fills up with school activities, schedule routine dental appointments for your children and yourself. No matter how consistent our oral hygiene habits are, dental visits provide benefits that regular brushing and flossing can’t–like removing tartar buildup. Scheduling regular dental check-ups as a part of a child’s preventive oral health routine minimizes the need to miss school during the academic year for treatment of dental emergencies. 

Northeast Delta Dental is a trusted source for oral health information, and you can learn more from our oral health library at www.nedelta.com or at SmileCoachMonthly.com.

Tom Raffio
President & CEO
Northeast Delta Dental

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