As we embark on back-to-school EVERYTHING, with kids wanting the latest wardrobe or newest digital accessories, parents are thinking about their annual check-ups. According to the American Dental Association, a dental examination is as important as immunizations and booster shots and should be a regular part of back-to-school preparations. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that tooth decay affects U.S. children more than any other chronic infectious disease and 19 percent of children ages 2 to 19 years old have untreated tooth decay. Additionally, dental disease causes children to miss more than 51 million school hours each year. So, if you haven’t started already, it’s time to be proactive and preventative as many schools are now requiring dental check-ups as part of their health requirements.
August is one of the busiest months to get an appointment. So, think and plan ahead. You should have appointments every 6 months. A great suggestion that I love to tell my patients to utilize for their families is “give yourself enough time by making it a habit to call when your child gets his/her spring report card each year.” Then you land appointments at the beginning of summer and near the holidays in the winter, when the office isn’t as crowded.
There are things to keep in mind that are age related when it comes to your Oral Fitness™:
1. Ages 6 and Under
At this age, your child might want to do all the brushing his/herself but doesn’t have the fine motor skills needed to do a thorough job. Let him/her start and jump in when needed. Talk to your children about their molars that have come in and how to adjust their brushing for their growing mouth. Remember, their mouth grows just like their bodies, so some adjustments may need to be made.
2. Ages 7-12
By now, your child knows what to do, he/she just might not want to. Keep encouraging healthy brushing and flossing habits. Remember, twice a day brushing and once a day flossing. Find products that are related to their favorite cartoon that might promote brushing and flossing as a fun experience with their favorite character. The more a child can relate to a task the more inclined he/she will be to partake in the activity. So make the child a part of the process of picking out the toothbrush, mouthwash, and/or toothpaste.
3. Ages 12-18
Research shows that when cavities (caries) appear in kids, they tend to be in young kids. But another crucial age group is teenage years and early adulthood. This is an imperative time to remind your adolescent about the consequences of not having good oral health. His/her understanding of consequences is better in these years.
There are a number of things a parent can do to ensure a good check-up in terms of preparation:
1. Don’t overschedule your child. Don’t make an appointment during your child’s typical naptime. And don’t make an appointment after a long day of camp or any classes. This can cause cranky kids or kids with little energy to now have to sit in the dentist chair. Set yourself up for a successful appointment. PLAN.
2. If you have more than one child, make one of your children the dental model. This role model scenario can work well since kids tend to feed off of each other.
Your child's back-to-school checklist should include:
1. Talk to your dentist about fluoride treatments or sealants to prevent decay. The fluoride is placed on the teeth, usually in the form of a gel. When the mouth becomes acidic, the gel releases fluoride to help protect the teeth against cavity causing bacteria. The sealant seals the grooves and dips in the teeth, preventing plaque and bacteria from colonizing and creating decay and cavities.
2. Regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes as well as flossing. Buy several toothbrushes so you change to a new one every three months or so, or after an illness. If it's hard to remember when to change a brush, you could try to change it every time your child’s report cards come out. Talk to your dentist about proper technique and how often a toothbrush change is right for your child. Enlist your kids and find their favorite music and play a 2-minute version so you ensure they brush the entire time.
3. Cut back on sugary foods and soft drinks for your child. Have them eat healthy lunches and snacks to reduce the promotion of tooth decay. Offer crunchy snacks like carrots and celery.
4. Wearing a properly fitted mouthguard while participating in organized sports, PE classes or playground activities.
Remember, by the time kids start kindergarten, more than 40 percent of children have some tooth decay. Healthy Oral Fitness™ habits should start young. In a recent study published in the Journal of Public Health, it was found that between 58 and 80 hours of school were missed due to dental pain and toothaches out of every 100 students between the ages of 5 and 17 per year. Additionally, the parents of those students missed an average of 2.5 work days to take their child to their pediatric dentist.
The most important thing you can do is create a consistent schedule of brushing and flossing. Make it fun and something to look forward to, that way your child’s check-up is just for prevention rather than treatment.