Each year as kids head back to school, parents do everything they can to be certain their children are prepared for the upcoming year. To ensure a child’s general health, some schools require physical examinations prior to the start of school. Some require proof that children are current on all immunizations and booster shots. Some require vision and hearing tests. No parent would minimize the importance of a child starting the school year in the best physical shape possible. And yet, some  parents overlook the importance of ensuring a child’s good oral health as the academic year begins.

 Oral Health Basics

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), untreated tooth decay, or dental caries, is one of the most common chronic childhood conditions, which can cause problems with a child’s ability to eat, speak, play, and learn. CDC statistics show that about 1 in 5 children, ages 5-11, have at least one untreated decayed tooth. Of course, as every parent knows, it’s easier and less stressful to prevent tooth decay than it is to treat it.

Children’s first brush with good oral care—no pun intended—is by brushing. Finding a toothbrush that’s the appropriate size for your child is the first step, and finding a toothpaste flavor your child endorses is step number two. Teaching your child to rinse and spit is challenge number three, since that will be a new concept for most kids, who will automatically be inclined to swallow. It’s important, though, that while brushing teeth, they don’t swallow fluoride toothpaste; swallowing too much fluoride can lead to dental fluorosis, which can leave white lines or spots on your child’s adult teeth.

Parents should help brush their children’s teeth until they feel their child is coordinated enough to do a good job on their own. Parents magazine estimates that, by around 6 years old, when your child is old enough to tie their own shoes, is a good time to start letting them brush their own teeth.

Foods and drinks not only produce acids, which can eat away at a tooth’s enamel, but also contain bacteria that creates plaque, a sticky substance that promotes decay. If plaque isn’t removed often, it quickly accumulates and hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by a professional teeth cleaning. If left unchecked, tartar can result in periodontal disease.

As for brushing technique, Healthy Children says that there are proponents of the up-and-down method, the back-and-forth method, the around-in-circles method, but the only important thing is that every tooth gets brushed on every surface. If kids can do that, while being sure to also brush along the gum line, then they’re brushing correctly.

While you don’t want kids swallowing fluoride, the use of fluoride can prevent a lot of cavities. For communities like Tucson, which don’t fluoridate the municipal water supply, brushing regularly with toothpaste containing fluoride or using a fluoride rinse also offers protection. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says systematic use of fluoride reduces cavities by 50-70%. 

The application of dental sealants is another method for preventing cavities in children. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recommends getting sealants applied to molars as soon as they appear. Children usually get their first permanent molars between the ages of 5 and 7, and second permanent molars between the ages of 11 and 14. Molars have uneven grooves, which are resistant to brushing, and in which food and bacteria can collect. Sealants, which last for several years, fill the grooves and protect the tooth’s enamel reducing cavities by 80%.

Even doing everything right, it’s still possible for a child to get a cavity, so it’s important to supplement home oral care with a visit to the dentist. The dentist can not only check for cavities but can also check to be certain that permanent or secondary teeth are coming in on schedule and that they’re straight.

A child’s checkup doesn’t take long and certainly involves no discomfort. Still there are many children of all ages who have an unfounded fear of the dentist.  

Fear of the Dentist

Fear of the dentist is often, passed down from generation to generation, although it isn’t a naturally occurring fear, like a fear of the dark would be. No one tells a child to be afraid of the dark—they just are. Unfortunately, fear of the dentist has usually been instilled by someone else—a friend, sibling, parent, or even grandparent. Sometimes, as a way to tease a younger brother or sister, a sibling may say, “If you go to the dentist, it’s going to hurt.”

What can be done to help children overcome the fear? The first step, Dr. Brei says, is figuring out where the fear comes from. Naturally, children are afraid of being hurt. But there are other fears—of being unable to breathe, of leaving Mommy, being hurt by a previous dentist—even something as seemingly harmless as the dentist’s glove. It’s the fear of the unknown.

Dr. Brei and his professional staff do everything possible to help patients including children get comfortable and relaxed. Dr. Brei says the next step is to change a young patient’s feelings by gaining trust and renewing their faith in the dentist.

If your child is afraid to go to the dentist, Dr. Brei suggests the following: 

  • Talk frequently about teeth and the importance of dental health. Familiarity fights fears. Learn that maintaining your teeth will avoid dental procedures.
  • Practice role-playing with your child. Take turns being the dentist. A simple game: counting teeth.
  • Don’t tease or threaten a child about going to the dentist.
  • Inform the dentist if you have a child who is afraid of something specific, such as loud noises, sensitivity, or needles, so Dr. Brei and his team can prepare accordingly and make it an enjoyable experience.

After assuring your child that a trip to the dentist won’t be the least bit unpleasant, remind them that the best way to start the new school year is with a big, bright, healthy smile. Then, schedule a back-to-school dental appointment as soon as possible.

Finally, here are three things parents can do to help ensure that children have a school year that is free from oral health issues:

  • Get children back into regular brushing and flossing schedule – Summer often means not following a schedule. The start of school offers the opportunity to get kids back to a routine of regular brushing and flossing. To make this transition as easy and fun as possible, parents can initiate a family brushing time, which not only gives parents a chance to observe their children’s brushing and flossing habits, but it also lets parents set a good example. 
  • Download an app that kids will love – There are several brushing apps that can also make brushing fun. Check out these apps:
    • Brush DJ – Kids can pick the tunes they want to blast while brushing. Songs play for two minutes—the time required for thorough brushing—so kids start and stop brushing with the music. 
    • Toothsavers – An even sorceress has cast a wicked spell that causes everyone’s mouth to be overrun with cavities. Kids get the chance to save the fairytale kingdom through their good brushing techniques.
    • Disney Magic Timer – Disney and Marvel characters are revealed the longer kids brush, which encourages good brushing habits. 
  • Schedule your child’s appointment now – SCHOOL IS STARTING SOON! Give your child the healthiest possible start to the 2020-2021 academic year and call the office of Tucson’s Cosmetic and Family Dentist, Dr. Robert Brei today to make an appointment for a back-to-school dental checkup! 

Dr. Brei can check for and help prevent cavities, monitor a child’s changing jaw development and bite, and fit young athletes with a protective, custom-fit mouth guard.

You can email the office at appointments@drbrei.com, call 520-325-9000, or click here to book online and schedule an appointment directly.