Back to Smiles: Healthy Teeth Tips for Back to School
Dr. Grace Yum gives us some great tips about children’s oral health and ending the brush battle!
“A return to normalcy” is possibly the least glamorous aspirational phrase ever uttered. While “normalcy” is the better future we crave, the path to it is inherently paved with routine.
But it is that daily routine that kids, especially, need to make them feel secure and safe. To know what is coming next means not being afraid—and gives little ones the confidence to thrive and succeed as they face challenges and grow. Success in the classroom may actually begin in the bathroom.
We spoke recently with Dr. Grace Yum—a mother and a certified pediatric dentist who is also founder and CEO of Mommy Dentists in Business—about the link between oral health and school, and tips for establishing a successful routine.
“The pandemic really threw a lot of us through a loop…A lot of the routine went out the window, you were in survival mode,” Yum says. With the upcoming schoolyear looking more normal, however, “it’s a great time to start back up on routines. And there is a connection…between good oral health and school.”
There is a long-established link between oral health and academic performance. Kids with tooth pain have more trouble focusing, and miss more school than their healthier counterparts. Yum tells us that cavities and other dental woes can happen earlier than you might expect—as young as age 2—and “it can go downhill fast” since baby teeth do not have as much protective enamel as adult teeth.
To be proactive, Yum recommends establishing good brushing habits early and sticking to them. “There are battles, and there are wars. There are some times you have to let things go, and some times you have to be consistent. Consistency is really important in setting up a routine.”
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend that kids have their first dentist appointment by age 1. “It’s not to get their teeth cleaned,” Yum explains. “It is for education purposes, it’s to set up that relationship so that the expert can guide you through preventative measures” and prevent cavities before they start.
Toddlers can be an especially tricky bunch when it comes to toothbrushing, so Yum recommends strapping them into their highchairs to brush their teeth rather than making them stand at the sink (where they can run away). She also says you can hand them a toothbrush and say “you brush Mommy’s teeth, and I’ll brush yours” to make it more of a game.
Make it Fun
Kids will be more excited to brush their teeth if their gear is more appealing. Yum suggests taking kids shopping to pick out their own toothbrushes and toothpaste—bonus points if you find some with their favorite characters!
Firefly products, for example, feature everything from Baby Shark to Disney to L.O.L. Surprise on their toothbrushes, toothpaste, and cavity rinses. It’s a simple thing, but having that little bit of control and preference in something as uncomfortable and boring as brushing teeth can make a huge difference for a kid.
Some kids are really picky, so you might have to try different flavors of toothpaste and different kinds of brushes to find the winning combination.
You also might need to help kids brush for longer than you expect—Yum tells us that kids don’t master manual dexterity until as old as age 7. They also “only brush what they see,” so you might have to help them get the back teeth, and those “packets” where food is hiding.
Think Outside the Box (and the Bathroom)
Especially as our schedules get more hectic again, it’s not always easy or realistic to have an ideal, drawn-out toothbrushing extravaganza. The most important thing is to make sure teeth get brushed.
Yum revealed that in her own household, she has gotten creative by leaving extra toothbrushes in the kitchen so that kids can do a quick brush at the sink after breakfast and get the food particles out of their teeth before they start their days. “I don’t even care if you have toothpaste at this point… just do a quick brush and out the door you go!”