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Back-to-School Tips for Healthy Teeth

Gretchen K. Henson, DDS – NOAH Heuser Pediatric Dentistry

“In the hustle and bustle of back-to-school, dental care often falls by the wayside,” says Dr. Henson, who notes that dental disease is the most common chronic disease of childhood—five times more prevalent than asthma.

“Tooth care is very important, but in the rush to get out the door in the morning, tooth brushing can get short shrift,” she says, adding that too much sugar and excessive soda and juice can lead to a serious tooth decay. “Children should see the dentist twice a year, but adequate home care, healthy diets and trauma prevention can ensure that children’s teeth stay healthy when they get back to school,” says Dr. Henson. At NOAH, we educate our families on the importance of good oral health at all ages and stages of teeth development. Check out our 11 tips below and consider adapting some or all of these strategies in your home so you to, can prevent dental disease.

1 – Strategic Brushing.

On school days, kids often have breakfast and are out the door—sometimes even eating breakfast on the way to school—and in the rush, they forget to brush. Dr. Henson says it’s not necessary to wait until after breakfast to brush. She suggests beating the morning rush by having kids brush before breakfast.

“The goal is to prevent the PH of the mouth from dropping in to an unsafe zone since cavities form in an acidic environment,” she says. “Studies show that if we brush and eat, the mouth’s PH will not dip low enough to form cavities.”

2 – Double Up.

Before school, many parents spend a lot of time brushing, braiding and putting hair in ponytails. Try giving your child a toothbrush while you brush his or her hair so you can get both jobs done at the same time.

3 – Eating Right.

At home, kids often spend the day grazing and snacking. In school, meals are more structured but less healthy since school lunches often feature foods that are highly processed or high in sugar. If you are packing your child’s lunch, send as many perishable foods as possible—anything that “requires refrigeration,” such as fruits, vegetables and meats, for healthy alternatives.

4 – Don’t Worry About Being Creative.

It’s okay to give your child the same healthy lunch every day. Kids don’t need that much variety and it makes life easier to cut up and pack fruits and vegetables in a baggie that you can grab along with a container of hummus and a few slices of pita.

5 – If It Sits On The Shelf, It Sits On The Teeth.

Even the most ubiquitous “healthy snacks”—low-sugar goldfish, pretzels and crackers—have starch that coats the teeth, feeding tooth-rotting bacteria that loves carbohydrates. Schools tend to rely on these products because they can sit in the pantry. Teachers also tend to give kids these products as snacks, so parents shouldn’t double down. Give children real, whole foods, such as whole fruits, instead of packaged or sticky foods such as gummy bears, fruit roll ups or dried fruits such as raisins.

6 – The Best Beverage Is Water.

Packaged juice tends to have more sugar than a child should have in an entire day. Kids who drink juice at lunch will have their teeth coated for the rest of the day unless they clean their mouth well after they eat, which is unlikely. The best beverage is water. Tap water in a water bottle is not only environmentally friendly, but is better than bottled water that does not have fluoride. Save juice for dinner…or better yet, give your child whole fruits. Sweets are addictive, so teach your child to like water.

7 – Protecting Teeth.

Make sure kids have mouth protection when they participate in organized sports at school, especially soccer, baseball and basketball. Don’t automatically assume that kids will be issued mouth protectors; aside from football, parents generally need to initiate this.

8 – Helmets Should Be Like Seatbelts.

Children should always wear helmet when riding bicycles, roller skating or roller blading or using scooters even if they are just riding around the block or in the neighborhood. Teach your children that helmets are like seatbelts—not optional.

9 – If Child Falls.

If your child has a fall of any kind—whether they are in pre-school or high school—they should see the school nurse immediately, followed by a visit to the dentist. Sometimes problems do not appear right away, but–like a bruise–develop over time. Something that may appear as a small cosmetic defect can actually affect the root of an adult tooth. That is why it’s important to bring your child to the dentist after a fall in order to establish a base line over time.

10 – If A Tooth Gets Knocked Out.

From third grade up, if a child has a front tooth knocked loose, it may be a permanent tooth. If a tooth is knocked out, it needs to be put back in the mouth immediately. Do not scrub the tooth even if it is visibly soiled (you can very gently rinse it), but even water can kill cells on the root of the tooth. There is a 30 minute differential between keeping and losing the tooth, so make sure the tooth is put back into the mouth within five to 10 minutes.

11 – Kids and Pain.

Most kids don’t complain about tooth pain because cavities don’t hurt until they are infected. Children who don’t have good teeth—missing, discolored or damaged teeth—are often treated differently by both peers and teachers. Studies have shown that teachers are less likely to call on children with bad teeth, and a child who is in pain due to infected teeth cannot concentrate or pay attention.

12 – Braces.

It’s very important for children to take care of their gums when they have braces. Good oral hygiene is even more important during the teenage years when hormones change the flora of the mouth. Because it can be difficult to brush around braces, plaque can build up and cause “demineralization,” leading to permanent damage to adult teeth, such as white spots. Imagine the disappointment when braces are removed to reveal straight, spotted teeth. This can be prevented through the use of special mouth washes for children with braces.

Our Care Team at NOAH are here to help you create and manage your healthy lifestyle habits. Need help setting or sticking to your goals? Request an appointment or call 480-882-4545 today!