Why your child needs a dental checkup when heading back to school

Child with backpack smiling
The fall is the perfect time to schedule a child for a dental checkup — right before the school year begins!

For a caregiver, the weeks leading up to the start of school can feel like an endless list of to-do’s. Making sure you have all the class supplies, scheduling physical examinations, stocking the fridge with school-ready food, and trying to help your child transition from the lull of summer into a structured routine can feel very overwhelming for anyone. Although it’s easy to forget about oral health during this chaotic time, neglecting to schedule a dentist visit before that first day of class has the potential to completely de-rail your child’s school year. Untreated tooth decay is a major problem for children in the United States (over 40 percent of children and teenagers have cavities), and because the back-to-school visit is often forgotten, emergency dentist appointments are the biggest cause of missed school hours. Some of the main reasons why children are so likely to have decay include:

  • Not enough fluoridated water consumption
  • A diet too high in sugars and processed foods
  • A poor brushing/flossing regimen
  • Missed dentist appointments in the past (depending on age)

If your child has issues with untreated tooth decay during the school year, it will have a negative impact on nearly everything they do. According to a study by the ADA, tooth decay can cause anxiety, difficulty speaking, embarrassment, and can reduce social engagement. Many of these effects are psychological, and the actual culprit will be hard to recognize unless a dentist tells you. Communicating with classmates and teachers, having high energy levels, eating wholesome meals and snacks, and concentrating are perhaps the biggest factors in a child’s success at school!

What to Expect at Your Child’s Dental Appointment

Fortunately, just one dentist appointment before the start of the school year is enough to get your child on track. Leaving enough time to complete treatment if it is necessary is recommended so that no school hours need to be missed. Here is what you can expect at your child’s appointment:

Deep cleaning and check-up

This is critical to removing all of the build-up on the teeth and gumline. It’s unlikely that your child’s teeth are getting cleaned enough to remove all of the plaque from the molars and behind the teeth (notorious areas for childhood decay), so a professional cleaning is necessary to get rid of the bacteria. This applies for both baby teeth and permanent. A thorough exam is equally important as only a dentist can determine the state of your child’s oral health and the best way forward in terms of preventative care and treatment.

X-rays

Without an x-ray, it’s impossible to see everything that is really going on in the mouth. Having an initial x-ray is the only way to see the tooth root and the hidden places between the teeth. While it’s not necessary at every visit, an x-ray will detect the earliest signs of decay that can be treated before it turns into advanced cavities.

Fluoride treatment

In-office fluoride treatments aren’t administered to every patient, but they are helpful for those who have a high risk of decay (such as children). Professional fluoride treatments have a higher concentration of fluoride than products bought at a store. We might brush the topical fluoride on or use it as a rinse that the teeth sit in for a few minutes. Because the fluoride needs time to be retained, your child should not eat or drink for 30 minutes afterwards. Some children need the treatment more often than others, with the time frame ranging from every 12 weeks to just once a year.

Mouthguard

Contact sports are very common for children to engage in, whether with friends at the playground or on a team. Sports injuries are a major cause of dental issues, and can be completely if a mouthguard is worn. While it is possible to purchase a mouthguard at a store, we can actually give you one that is tailor-made for your child’s mouth. A mouthguard cannot do very much if it doesn’t fit in your child’s mouth, so either bringing the older model to the appointment to have it fitted properly or having an entirely new one made is necessary for the best protection.

Sealants

A thin plastic coating that is placed on the molars to fill in the deep grooves on the chewing surface, sealants provide a great option for preventative care during the school year. They are recommended right when the molars come in (around age 5-7) if your child is already prone to decay, and they normally last at least a few years. Although they are not a replacement for brushing and flossing, they do go a long way in fending off plaque build-up.

Long-term Care

As important as that first back-to-school dentist appointment is, the longterm oral health of your child should be a collaborative effort between the caregiver and the dentist. Even the best dental care cannot replace prioritizing oral health at home. This is done in a number of ways, including:

  1. Replacing your child’s toothbrush regularly.┬áThe ADA recommends every 3-4 months at most. Make sure the toothbrush has soft bristles and the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
  2. Stocking your kitchen with nutritious foods.┬áProcessed foods are perfectly suited for lunchboxes, so it’s difficult to resist the temptation of favoring convenience over nutrition. It might take an entire kitchen over-haul, but choosing healthy foods over processed is crucial in the fight against decay.
  3. Focus on a solid oral care regimen. Children learn by watching, so make sure that you are modeling the habits that you want them to take part in. They should see you floss once a day, and brushing should be a routine event for the whole family morning and night. Children typically need you to help them brush until about 7 years old and floss until 10 years old. After that, supervision is still required.

The start of the school year is an exciting time for both parents and children, and taking the time to schedule a dentist visit will ensure that the excitement does not quickly turn to stress over dental problems that could have been avoided entirely. You will never regret making dental care a top priority for your child, so call our office today to schedule an appointment!

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