Educating Parents to Improve Kids’ Oral Health

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To improve children’s oral health and keep them active in the classroom, education for parents may be the first step. From the early 1970s to the 1990s, the amount of cavities in the baby teeth of children ages 2 to 11 declined, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. However, in their latest study, that trend flipped. A small yet significant rise in tooth decay showed that 42 percent of kids have some form of cavity or dental caries. That’s about 21 million American children.

Education starts at home, where parents are lifelong teachers. Since day one, we learn from what our parents do, how they treat others and how they take care of themselves. You are your kids’ learning models. The attitudes you maintain about oral health inspire theirs and can steer them to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Even if your kid seems to rebel against you sometimes, little Johnny or Sara will take after you more than you realize.

After all, tooth decay in primary teeth has hefty implications on dental health later in life.

“We do know from a number of studies that when children have tooth decay in their baby teeth, they tend to have decay later in their adult teeth,” lead researcher Bruce Dye of the National Center of Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told ABC News.

Encourage your children to eat nutritious meals and avoid frequent snacking. If you pack his or her lunch for school, make sure to throw in an apple, banana or some other fruit. Teach them from a young age to develop good habits for flossing and brushing. Dentists recommend that adults and kids floss once a day. Interestingly enough, it has been shown that flossing before brushing is more likely to develop into a habit. Why? Often after we finish with the toothbrush we feel like our mouths are sufficiently clean, so we postpone using the thread until tomorrow … or sometimes next month. Always floss before brushing!

Brush with the “two-and-two” rule: twice a day for two minutes each time. It may seem like a long session, but a solid way to keep at it is to hum your favorite song while scrubbing away. By the time you finish the first chorus, you’ll already be halfway done!

Staying diligent on oral hygiene practices now can save mom and dad a lot of money down the line. Cavity treatments run anywhere from $70 to $150, while a root canal can cost up to $1000.

Science experiment, anyone?
Sticking with the theme that education starts at home, let’s turn the kitchen into the classroom (don’t worry, minimal clean-up is required). The majority of kids – and many adults – learn best through hands-on activities. So, why don’t we conduct a little science experiment that illustrates how your pearly whites are affected by acids and bacteria? It’s simple, incorporates some parent-child bonding and will help your kids visualize exactly what food and beverages do to your smile.

First off, take a transparent glass and pour dark-colored soda into it. Place a baby tooth in the glass and let it sit for 24 hours. After the time’s up, take out the tooth and dump out the soda. In just one day, you’ll notice how the tooth darkens and shows signs of erosion and holes, or cavities.

Soft drinks contain acids that dissolve the enamel, or protective coating, of your teeth. Acid levels are measured in terms of pH balance. A pH of 7.0 is neutral – think of water – whereas anything below 5.0 is strong enough erode your pearly whites. The pH levels of soda are between 2.5 to 4.0. A lot of sour candy reaches these acidic lows too.

Another neat experiment demonstrates the importance of flossing. All you’ll need is a rubber glove from the kitchen, a jar of peanut butter, dental floss, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Put the glove on one hand and have your child spread peanut butter between your fingers all the way down toward the knuckles. Tighten your fingers together as if you’re a policeman directing traffic. In this experiment, your fingers represent teeth and the peanut butter is the food stuck between them.

Keeping your fingers tight together and held upward, have your kid use the brush with toothpaste to try to scrub the peanut butter away. How well does it work? Now, have the little scientist use the floss between your fingers. Which does a better job, the toothbrush or the floss?

Your mini-experiment will show that a toothbrush cannot reach between teeth like floss can. Bits of food get trapped in the nooks and crannies of our teeth daily, and it’s up to floss to remove them. Similar to the soda trial, this experiment shows that when food is not removed, it can cause gum disease and cavities.

Through simple guidance and reminders, parents can help children learn good oral hygiene habits so their smiles will last a lifetime!

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