COVID-19 is very much on the minds of parents and kids at the start of this new school year. But did you know that the most common, chronic disease among school-age children is CAVITIES, according to the American Dental Association’s online Mouth Healthy article, “8 Secrets to a Successful Back-to-School Dental Checkup”? In fact, the article goes on to say that the disease of cavities causes children to miss more than 51 million school hours each year!
The good news is, this disease of cavities in children is preventable. So, in addition to the pencils, notebooks and binders, you want to make sure that you schedule your child’s back-to-school checkup at the dentist. Below is a condensed summary of Dr. Mary Hayes’ recommendations, in the above ADA article, about how to have a successful back-to-school dental checkup for both child and parent.
Dr. Hayes says it is important to schedule your child’s back-to-school appointment early before the back-to-school rush. She recommends calling to schedule when you get that spring report card for your child, and before summer activities begin.
Encourage Age-Appropriate Dental Habits at Home:
According to the ADA, all kids should brush twice a day for 2 minutes, and floss once a day. Dr. Hayes recommends the following for each of the following age groups:
Ages 6 and Under
Your child may still want to brush their teeth on their own at this age, but they lack the fine motor skills yet to do this. It is recommended that parents allow children to start the process, but then guide them in the midst of it.
Children at this age sometimes lack motivation for good brushing and flossing habits. Parents need to encourage their children at this stage until they reach a greater understanding of self-care and accountability for their actions.
Research shows that cavities tend to appear the most in young children and then later in the teen and early adult years. Teens need to be mindful that even if they have never had a cavity, they should not grow slack in taking care of their teeth.
Timing is Everything:
Schedule your child’s back-to-school appointment at a time when they are not exhausted, says Dr. Hayes. She suggests avoiding appointments during usual nap times, or at the end of very busy days when children may lack stamina.
Make One Child a Model:
Dr. Hayes recommends that you only schedule one child at a time for their back-to-school check-up. It is ideal, she says, to first schedule the child who has had the most positive experiences at the dentist so that they can serve as a model to the others with less positive experiences and perceptions.
A Hungry Child is Not a Happy Patient:
Your child tends to be happier if they’ve had a light meal before their appointment, says Dr. Hayes. And a light versus heavy meal tends to minimize gagging in children with a gagging reflex. That said, brushing after that light meal is ideal before the appointment!
Leave Your Anxiety at the Door:
If you are anxious, your child will probably pick up on it, says Dr. Hayes. She notes that kids age 4, 5 and 6 are particularly impressionable to a parent’s anxiety. Her advice is to be aware of how you are communicating with your child about their trip to the dentist. She encourages parents to be realistic with their child about what they will experience, and then help them gain a sense of accomplishment about their visit (i.e. Have them ask the dentist if it will hurt). It is then essential to help them link that positive feeling of accomplishment with the goal of gaining strong and healthy teeth for a lifetime.
Keep Cool if Your Child Won’t Cooperate:
Dr. Hayes says that the worst thing you can do at your child’s dental visit is to leave if your child gets upset, which she says sets you and them up for more difficult visits in the future. She adds that it is typical for a 4, 5 or 6-year-old to get upset when they feel they are in a situation which they cannot control. Instead, she recommends that you help break things down for them into smaller steps. This includes allowing the dentist to lead the conversation with your child during the visit in order to help them build a relationship.
Take a Card (or Three) on Your Way Out:
Dr. Hayes says it is wise to be prepared for potential dental accidents. That is why she recommends that you always have the number of your child’s dentist on hand. She also advises to give the dentist’s number to your child’s teachers and coaches, and to keep copies of it in your child’s backpack and in your wallet.
We know that you have a lot on your mind this school year, and perhaps more than most years this time around. That said, we don’t want you to miss what is most important—your child’s overall health. So, be sure to plan ahead and schedule your child’s back-to-school checkup, and follow the steps above to make it not only positive, but also successful!
American Dental Association. Mouth Healthy. 8 Secrets to a Successful Back-to-School Dental Checkup. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/babies-and-kids/back-to-school. Accessed September 8, 2020.