Back-to-School to Checklist for Elementary School Kids

Whatever you do, don’t forget to take the first day of school pictures! Or make them the special breakfast you promised! And did you go to the uniform store yet? Wait, it’s closed on Mondays….

If your mental chatter sounds a little something like that right now, know you’re not alone. Parents across America are actively gearing up for yet another round of that season we call “Back-to-School.” If those words trigger a mental checklist that spills to the ground like Santa’s present list, don’t feel overwhelmed. Today, we’re here to help by providing clarity on a few of the back-to-school season top-priority items when it comes to your child’s dental health.

1. Work Towards Brushing Independence

Ever wonder what the magic age is when your child should be able to brush their teeth themselves? Early elementary—typically 6 to 9 years old—is right around the time when most children develop the dexterity, focus, and instruction-following capability necessary to brush their teeth themselves. Notice, however, we said most, not all. You may have a rising kindergartener who loves to show you how she can brush her teeth, while your second or even third grader still struggles. This is normal. But as your children head back to school, it’s important to continue to teach them proper oral hygiene habits and move them towards oral hygiene independence in a healthy way.

An easy test you can apply to see whether your child is ready to brush by themselves or not is whether they can tie their own shoes. This is often an indicator of whether they have the dexterity needed to brush their teeth. You can also consider whether your son or daughter is responsible for getting themselves ready in the morning. If so, they likely also have the follow through to brush their own teeth.

Some Considerations

Other questions to ask yourself are whether they can stay focused on a task for at least three minutes (two minutes of brushing, plus flossing, rinsing, and clean up), and whether they have expressed interest in this independence.

If your elementary school kid is still struggling and you’re worried that brushing your six or seven or eight year’s old teeth for them will hamper their learning and independence, don’t be. Remember that right now, as so many pediatric dentists will tell you, the priority for them is clean teeth. We don’t want them to be “independent” at the cost of their health.

Please note that even after parents stop brushing for their child, it’s typical to continue flossing for them for a while longer. Children usually still lack the fine motor skills and attention span to complete the admittedly arduous task of flossing right away.

      However, if your child is ready to start brushing (and even potentially flossing) by themselves, the start of the school year is a great time to incorporate that new routine. If you have some sort of chore chart for them, you can add a new section for “Brushed My Own Teeth,” where they can place a sticker when they’ve done it.

2. Prevent Malocclusions

The American Association of Orthodontists, (or the AAO) recommends that children are evaluated by an orthodontist no later than age 7. They say that, “By that age, a child will have a mix of baby and permanent teeth, and the orthodontist will be able to recognize orthodontic problems [which are known as malocclusions] even in their earliest stages.”

What better time to get this off your to-do list than when you’re getting everything lined up and ready to go for the school year? Instead of letting this linger and pop back into your mind to stress you out at various intervals throughout the school year, why not take care of them now for any of your children it applies to? Schedule them now and schedule them early, and that way you won’t have to worry about it once the school year is in swing. If your child does have a malocclusion, it will be addressed by an orthodontist.

Some questions that you can expect to be addressed in that first orthodontist’s exam are:

  • Is there an orthodontic problem, and if so, what is it?
  • What are the options to correct the problem?
  • Is there a possibility teeth will need to be removed?
  • How long is the recommended treatment expected to take?
  • How much will the recommended treatment cost?

According to the AAO, early warning signs that your child may need to see the orthodontist include early or late loss of baby teeth, difficulty chewing or biting, mouth breathing, jaws shifting or clicking, cheek biting, and facial imbalance.

3. Start Healthy Food Habits

Who says nutrition can’t be fun? This school year, say no to the processed, packaged foods that destroy your child’s teeth. Instead, start experimenting with your child now to figure out what healthy foods they might want to pack for their school lunches!

 Maybe your son or daughter absolutely loves pineapple. If that’s the case—great! Pineapple contains an element known as bromelain that’s great for your teeth, not to mention all the vitamins that help the rest of your body. If they love ranch dressing—awesome! Give them some broccoli and carrots to dip in it. You can even buy packs pre-made at the grocery that have broccoli and baby carrots and a little serving of ranch together, ready to toss in a lunch box and go. Summer is the perfect time to experiment with new foods they haven’t tried before. Test out healthy options so that when the school year rolls around, you can toss out the sugary, sticky Fruit Roll-Ups and processed Lunchables. You’ll be all ready to replace them with easy, health-boosting alternatives. You never know—your kid may just love a good roll-up of plain turkey and cheese!

4. Go See the Dentist!

Last but certainly not least, scheduling dental exams should be perhaps the most important item on the back-to-school checklist for your child’s oral health. In some states, dental screenings may even be required by law! This makes sense—the involvement of a dental professional is a key component of your child’s health and well-being. 

In fact, if children do not receive proper dental care, and instead suffer from failing oral health, the consequences to their school experience are dramatic. According to the CDC, “Children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t.” Poor oral health may also cause digestive problems which would harm your child’s school experience. Because a kid’s digestive system is still developing, it’s especially sensitive to upset. Research notes, “When teeth and gums aren’t taken care of properly, bacteria can travel from their mouth to other parts of their body [causing illness].” Furthermore, the pain from cavities and tooth decay will distract them from learning, play, and social interaction.

All of these side effects are just a few reasons why parents should strive to prevent tooth decay before it happens in their child. The first and best way to do this is to teach your child proper oral hygiene and to brush for them until they can do it thoroughly, even if that takes longer than you think it should. The second line of defense, however, is visiting the dentist. The perfect time to schedule your appointments is now, before the rush of the school year has overtaken your family and it’s hard to keep all the plates spinning.

Final Thoughts

          We’ve covered moving towards brushing independence as we move into the routine of the school year. We’ve discussed preventing orthodontic problems, known as malocclusions, by seeing an orthodontist before your child is 7. We also covered experimenting with healthy lunches now so that when the school year rolls around, you won’t be scrambling to find one green thing that your child will eat that’s not a Ring Pop. Finally, we talked about the most important back-to-school checklist item: scheduling dental exams for your family! Please call our office today to do so. We would love to see you. We wish you a happy and healthy school year!

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About Our Team

Our team has over 30 years of combined experience in the field of dentistry and a passion for educating our patients on the importance of good dental hygiene. To learn more about them, please visit our team page 

Our staff is dedicated to making sure that your entire experience is the best it can possibly be. Whatever your needs are, our team is trained to listen and offer the best advice and guidance in choosing the services that best meet your needs. 

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