Schools are wonderful places full of friendship, books, sports, and learning. They’re also places full of candy and sugary drinks. As a pediatric dentist, I often worry about the latter. In my mind, sugar has its place– it’s just a very small place. Still, you can’t stop the inevitable. Kids are going to eat candy. What can you do?
You might not be able to pull the brakes on the candy train, but you can slow it down a little bit. The key lies in encouraging your children to practice good oral health habits while they’re at school.
“But, Dr. Duffy, that’s impossible!” you say.
“Not as impossible as a train made out of candy,” I reply.
It might take some hard work. And some explaining and education. And possibly even some bribes. I believe, though, that you can encourage your children to take care of their teeth while they’re at school.
How? I’m glad you asked.
Pack a Toothbrush
If your child takes their lunch to school, pack a toothbrush and a tube of travel-sized fluoride toothpaste in their lunchbox. That way, they can brush right after they eat lunch. If they’re old enough to floss by themselves, you can pack a little bit of floss, too.
I know what you’re thinking. You can pack all the toothbrushes in the world, but you can’t force your child to brush their teeth when you’re not there. This is true.
Here are some helpful tips:
- Let your child pick out their toothbrush and their supplies. If they see a ridiculous toothbrush you might not otherwise spend the money on, maybe make an exception. If they love their toothbrush and toothpaste, and it’s something they’re proud of, they’re more likely to brush their teeth.
- If they’re shy about brushing their teeth in the restroom at school, pack a small bottle of water with their lunch, too. That way, they can brush their teeth in the bathroom stall and have a small amount of water to use for wetting their toothbrush and rinsing it off.
- If all else fails, you can try Colgate Wisps. They’re disposable toothbrushes that don’t require wetting or toothpaste, and they can be used almost anywhere. If you’re worried about creating waste, Colgate has some handy information on how to recycle Wisps.
Brushing at school is especially important if your child has braces. Brushing after lunch will keep their teeth clean and their breath fresh, too.
Make it a Ritual
Sometimes, a novelty toothbrush and the promise of good oral health might not be enough to ensure your child brushes at school. We have a few other solutions for you.
We’re huge advocates for putting good oral hygiene routines in place early in life. Routines and rituals work. So, if you can make brushing at school part of your child’s ritual, you’ll have a much easier time.
You can keep your child motivated with a brushing chart. Make a simple chart and put a cool sticker on it for every time they brush their teeth at school. If they build up enough stickers, offer them a reward, such as iPad time, a new book, baby hippo videos on the internet, or even a pizza night. Basically, they can cash in the stickers for whatever motivates them.
If you know the parents of your child’s friends, you can also try to get them in on the act. If your child makes brushing part of a group activity with their friends after they eat, they’ll be excited about it. And they won’t feel alone or embarrassed. Just be warned that some hijinx might ensue… but that’s what childhood is all about, right?
Packing healthy meals is important for good oral health at school, too. Even if you can’t convince your child to brush their teeth at school, you can at least minimize their opportunities to eat sugary foods.
- Carrot sticks
The crunchy foods will help clean your child’s teeth, and I touched upon how cheese is good for dental health in a previous blog post. A bottle of water will help clean out their mouth, as well.
Ideally, you’ll want a combination of good brushing practices at school and healthy meals. Healthy teeth are important all throughout life, and you want your child to start off with an advantage.
I know it can be scary when you realize just how much candy and junk food floats around your child’s school, even if you don’t send it to school with them. I’m a pediatric dentist, so I spend a lot of time thinking about solutions to these problems.
With a little hard work, a little bribery, and a little planning, you can make sure your child’s teeth stay healthy, even when the candy train pulls into the station.
A Healthy Mouth is a Happy Mouth!