Brushing Up! A Lesson in Oral Health

IMG_4046aAccording to the Office of the Surgeon General, more than 51 million school hours are lost each year to dental-related health conditions, largely due to pediatric tooth decay. Across America, more than 50 percent of children under the age of 17 suffer from at least one cavity. But tooth decay and cavities are easily preventable with a few basic steps: brushing and flossing.

As a dentist serving the Sammamish Plateau, I want to see the families in this community beat the statistics, so I’m focused on community wellness, promoting good oral health and prevention. Each year, I try to visit preschools and elementary schools in our community to chat with kids about how to take care of their teeth and why oral hygiene is an important part of an overall wellness routine.

Now, I realize that getting kids to brush and floss their teeth properly can be difficult for any parent—even for me! But I’ve found that talking to kids about dental health in a fun way keeps their attention and helps them make positive connections to the overall dental experience. Positive experiences equal clean and healthy teeth and gums!

My most recent school visit was at Sunny Hills Elementary School where my oldest son, Evan, is just finishing up 1st grade. Here’s how the discussion unfolded…

What does a dentist do? 

Firstly, I was very happy to learn that all the children had been to the dentist—so, many of them knew all about what dentists do, the importance of clean teeth and avoiding cavities. With a few giggles in the background, I further explained that we check the entire mouth (gums, cheeks, teeth, throat, tongue, and under the tongue) to make sure everything is healthy.

How many teeth do we have? 

Most of the kids guessed 20. While this crowd of 7- and 8-year olds were missing a few front teeth, at this age they probably have about 24 teeth—a mix of baby teeth and adult teeth, including four adult molars. But, by the age of 12 to 14, most children will have lost all their baby teeth to make room for 28 adult teeth.

What do we use our teeth for?

While the kids correctly called out chewing, smiling and talking (smart kid!), we also talked about how our teeth are designed to do different things. Our front teeth are called incisors, and they’re used for cutting and biting foods like apples, pizza and sandwiches. Our canine teeth are in the corners, and they’re meant for grasping and tearing food. Way in the back of our mouths are molars, which are used for chewing. Our mouths are very efficient processing machines!

How do we take care of our teeth? DinoDragonC

These kids were right on the money here. Nearly all of them knew to floss every day and brush twice a day. But brushing and flossing alone is only part of a healthy routine, so I like to emphasize a healthy diet and the 2x2x2 rule: brush twice a day for two minutes and see a dentist twice a year for healthy, happy teeth.

Accompanied by my friend Dino the Dragon, we demonstrated good brushing technique—gentle, small circles right where the tooth meets the gum, making sure not to scrub back and forth to protect the gum tissue. Dino was a hit!

What foods are good for our teeth? What foods are bad?

Skipping right over the obvious good-for-you foods (fresh fruits and vegetables), we had a fun chat about sugar.

While the kids guessed anything with sugar is bad, it’s the sticky, gooey foods that are extra bad—especially sticky, sour, sugary candies and treats. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t eat them—everyone needs a treat now and then! But I like to suggest they be eaten in the afternoon, followed by a healthy meal and a good brushing before bedtime. Eating sticky candy and gooey treats after dinner and right before bed can lead to tooth decay.

And don’t be fooled by “healthy” fruit leathers and raisins—they have natural fruit sugars that are sticky, too!

The time flew by, and before I knew it, we were wrapping it up and saying goodbye. I was truly impressed by how much these kids already knew about oral health and hygiene, and credit the thoughtful, engaged and smart parents in our community. We all deserve an A+ for educating our kids and modeling good hygiene.

Working with local schools is an important entry point for providing information and oral health education to children in our community. If you’d like a visit from us, please call our office and talk to us about our oral health education program so that we can design a classroom visit just for you.

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