What brushing teeth and homework have in common

(BPT) – Did you know over 34 million school hours are lost each year due to children’s dental health problems in the U.S.? Tooth decay is actually one of the top chronic infectious diseases in the country, but is 100% preventable.

Children who experience untreated oral health issues are also more likely to have lower school performance, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). Oral health problems can damage a child’s self-esteem, as they may be less likely to speak, smile, play and interact with others. But untreated tooth decay and other oral health issues don’t have to become a problem if they’re caught early.

Putting your children’s dental appointments on a seasonal checklist helps make sure they’ll stay healthy all year long. Here are some ways you can help maintain your children’s dental health, no matter what their age.

Good oral care starts early

The AAPD recommends children visit a dentist by their first birthday, or as soon as their first tooth begins to appear. Early visits not only provide the dentist with a baseline for reviewing your child’s oral health and underlying bone structure as their teeth grow and develop, but also help get your child used to dental visits as a routine, healthy habit. Establishing a relationship with their dentist and creating a “dental home” early will help your children feel more comfortable during later visits.

“By starting dental visits early in a child’s life, the chance for developing tooth decay is significantly reduced,” says president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Dr. Kevin Donly. “A pediatric dentist can provide parents with helpful information, including how to put a brushing routine into action for your child.”

Pediatric dentists are well trained, receiving two to three additional years of specialized training to emphasize growth and development, special health care needs and advanced treatment techniques in hospital settings. Pediatric dentists limit their practices to treating children, and are prepared to relieve children’s fears, treat special needs children and create a kid-friendly environment. Keeping these visits consistent prevents problems from developing untreated — and gets your children accustomed to these healthy practices.

Just like homework, make brushing a habit

By modeling good brushing behavior, you emphasize the importance of oral care for everyone in the family. Children are more likely to be influenced by what you do than by what you say. Setting regular times to brush teeth is just like setting regular homework times — once kids are used to it, the habit becomes automatic.

Brushing together can show your children how to brush, how often, and for how long. The AAPD recommends brushing for two minutes, twice a day. You can make a game out of it by setting a timer or playing a song that lasts for two minutes while you brush together. By modeling good brushing behavior, you can help your little ones banish the “mouth monsters” like Tartar the Terrible, Tooth D.K. and Ginger Bite-Us. For tips on healthy oral care habits, check out mouthmonsters.mychildrensteeth.org.

Don’t ignore tooth aches

While 96% of parents say oral health is important, according to a recent AAPD survey, most do not think of toothaches as a serious ailment. Compared to tummy aches, earaches, headaches and sore throats, one in three (31%) of parents ranked toothaches as the least serious ailment. Toothaches can actually be a warning sign for a number of serious problems, including infections or cavities, which can be easily treated if they’re caught early. If a child complains of tooth or mouth pain, visit a pediatric dentist right away.

Limit sugary drinks and snacking

Drinking too much sugary juice or snacking throughout the day can be a big factor in causing tooth decay. Encourage your children to drink water instead of juice, and limit snacking to mouth-friendly options like fresh fruit or pretzels instead of fruit pouches, granola bars or candy.

While you’re establishing routines for the new school year, be sure to include a visit to your child’s pediatric dentist on your checklist, so they can smile every day as they head into class.

For more information about children’s oral health and to find a pediatric dentist in your area, visit mychildrensteeth.org.