Include oral care in your back-to-school plans

August 14, 2015

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Your kids will want to look their best on their first day back at school, and that will show through in more ways than their stylish clothes and new backpacks. Taking care of their smile is also extremely important, especially during the start of the school year. In fact, 40 percent of school nurses report they encounter students who avoid smiling and laughing because of their poor dental health.1

"More than 30% of parents reported their kids missed school because of an oral health issue."

Not only will their pearly whites give them a confident glow, but a healthy smile can also help them perform better in school. A recent survey released by Delta Dental revealed that more than 30 percent of parents reported their kids, ranging from ages 6 to 12, missed school because of an oral health issue.2 It's no secret that good school attendance can help students succeed.

According to the report, no parent or child is immune to the academic absences related to dental health. However, kids in the Northeast regions of the U.S. reported the most oral-health related absences, with 36 percent of parents reporting their children missed school for this reason. The South followed closely behind, with 33 percent of parents saying the same thing.

It's unclear why there's a disparity between these sections of the country, but there are plenty of reasons why oral health is affected by where you live. For example, people who live in areas with fluoridated water can experience a 25 percent reduced rate of tooth decay.3

Though it's been a relatively cost-effective way of reducing oral health disparities, community fluoridated water is still not available everywhere. About a quarter of Americans still don't have access to this health benefit.4 Therefore, children living in these areas may be more at risk for having their oral health interfere with academics.

Regardless of where you live, it's important for parents to get their kids' oral health in check before they head off to school.

Schedule regular dentist appointments
The American Dental Association stresses that visiting a dentist is just as important as regular back-to-school health procedures such as booster shots and wellness checks.5 Make sure you schedule an appointment with your dentist before the school year begins. It's recommended that you visit the dentist at least once every six months, kids and adults alike. Therefore, you may want to get your whole household on a family dental plan. Find a dentist and schedule your appointments about a month before school starts to get your kids on the right track prior to entering the academic year.

Pack a healthy lunch
The start of the school year is quickly approaching, which means parents will be tasked with packing lunches fairly soon. With the hustle and bustle of everyday lives, your kids' school lunches may consist of items you scramble together last minute. While there's no solution for busy schedules, you can at least make sure you have the proper foods on hand. By having mouth-healthy snacks fully stocked, you'll know everything you stash in your child's lunch box will help his or her oral care routine.

Pack fruits and vegetables in your kids' lunches to promote a healthy smile.
Pack fruits and vegetables in your kids' lunches to promote a healthy smile.

Foods affect your kids' oral health the moment they take a bite of that bologna sandwich. For example, certain carbohydrates break down into sugars while still in the mouth.6 This sugar reacts with the mouth's natural bacteria to create acid, which can eat away at your kids' tooth enamel. When grocery shopping for the start of the school year, make sure you have the right ingredients to pack a healthy lunch. Make sandwiches with whole-grain bread and have a variety of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks you have in the pantry.

Get back into a routine
Getting back into a daily routine is one of the better elements to the start of the school year. Having a scheduled bedtime and morning procedure will make it easier to integrate proper oral care into your family's daily regimen. The whole family should brush their teeth twice a day, so make sure your little ones are doing so after waking up and before going to bed. Additionally, you should floss once a day. This can be done during one of the brushing times, or you can even include a pack of floss in your children's lunches.

By keeping your kids on a proper oral care routine, you can reduce their risk for problems such as cavities, tooth decay and gum disease. When you eliminate these issues, you'll be able to keep them in the classroom and out of the dentist office because of oral emergencies.

Get in touch with your school nurse
Tooth decay and gingivitis may require a trip to the dentist. However, there are some minor, yet equally irritating, oral ailments that can be helped by a school nurse. For example, toothaches or tooth sensitivity in kids can cause discomfort that interferes with their concentration in the classroom. Children as especially susceptible to this problem after lunchtime when they may have gulped down ice water or eaten hot soup. However, tooth sensitivity is often a sign of a more serious problem, such as worn tooth enamel or exposed tooth roots. A school nurse may be able to provide quick fixes that can at least relieve the pain until your kids can see a dental professional outside of school hours.

If your child experiences tooth sensitivity, ask your dentist about products that can provide immediate relief. On-the-spot gel or paste treatments may be applied to the affected area to alleviate pain, and you can give those items to the school nurse. Additionally, many schools won't distribute even over-the-counter pain relievers without a parent's consent. To help your children remain in the classroom for the whole school day while experiencing a toothache, make the appropriate arrangements with your school nurse.

However, any immediate relief will only mask symptoms. It's important to treat sources of oral pain at the root of the cause. Make sure you get your kids into a proper oral care routine now, so they can be prepared for a happy, healthy school year.

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1. "Linking School Nurses to Health and Wellness Resources," National Association of School Nurses, Inc., July 16, 2015. http://www.oralhealthconnections.org/

2. "31% of U.S. Parents Say Kids Missed School Due to Dental Problems," Delta Dental Plans Association, July, 15, 2015. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/31-of-us-parents-say-kids-missed-school-due-to-dental-problems-300113340.html

3. "Community Water Fluoridation," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/

4.  "Community Water Fluoridation," National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/pdf/communitywaterfluoridationfactsheet.pdf

5. "Back-to-school checkup: Send your child off to school with a healthy mouth," American Dental Association, August 2004. http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/patient_41.ashx

6. "Mouth-Health Eating," Colgate. http://www.colgate.com/en/us/oc/oral-health/basics/nutrition-and-oral-health/article/mouth-healthy-eating

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