What’s every kid’s least favorite part of getting ready for bed? No, it’s not checking for monsters in the closet, and it’s not turning off their favorite television show (although that can be a difficult battle, too). Hands down, every child’s least favorite part of the evening routine is brushing their teeth. Why? It’s actually a simple answer.
When you’re young, a two-minute brushing process seems like an eternity, and no kid wants to stand still and stare into a mirror for that long, especially if it involves cleanliness. As I reminisce on my own childhood, I can distinctly remember turning those “two minutes” into a ten-second run through. Kids are too busy worrying about mud pies, grass stains, and anything messy to understand why brushing their teeth is important. So, given my own experience and the grumbles of concerned parents everywhere, it’s easy to understand why the entire month of February is dedicated to children’s dental hygiene.
National Children’s Dental Health Month, sponsored by the American Dental Association (ADA), is an opportunity for everyone to get serious about those pearly whites. We decided to get involved by learning a few things about teeth. Did you know...
- The health of children's teeth depends on four major things: diet, oral hygiene, tooth makeup, and the amount and quality of their saliva (CNN).
- Children have 20 baby teeth, and will eventually have 32 permanent teeth when they get older (KidsHealth).
- Sugary foods can cause tooth decay, which includes all the yummy candies and cookies kids love (NIDCR).
- Eating those sugary foods with a meal is actually less harmful to your teeth than eating sugary food by itself (KidsHealth).
- Chewing on ice can cause small fractures - plus it's really loud! (Seattle Times).
- Oral diseases reduce children's ability to concentrate in the classroom and to take part in extracurricular activities (School Nurse News).
With these kinds of facts, it's clear that dental hygiene, safety, and overall health are important to a child's well-being. So how can we all reinforce dental health and make it more fun? One school nurse who was featured in School Nurse News chose to incorporate technology into her curriculum, and it turned into an educational project the kids wanted to participate in. Her idea: taking pictures of each child's smile during different parts of the year, and over time. Her brilliant project got the kids interested in teeth, and it opened the door for dental health conversations. That's a win-win if I've ever heard of one.
For less intense projects for educators, there are always quizzes and lesson plans to teach and reinforce positive habits at school, or coloring sheets and crossword puzzles for the more artistically inclined. But the fight doesn't stop after regular school hours, because children can experience dental health risks out on the football field, basketball court, or ice rink, too. Coaches and athletic trainers should stress the importance of mouth guards, which may not be as exciting to talk about. My best advice is to show pictures of NHL athletes who are missing teeth and compare these with the beautiful smiles of athletes who regularly wear mouth guards.
All of these prevention techniques are helpful, but no matter how often we talk to kids about brushing their teeth, wearing mouth guards, or not eating sugary foods, kids are stubborn and accidents do happen. When that time comes, school nurses can utilize the three A's - assessment, action, and awareness - when responding to dental traumas, to provide effective treatment and care for messy teeth situations.
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