Taking a bite out of ‘Back to School’

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A handful of tips to make it easier to get your child dentally ready for the school year

By Dr. Stephanie McGann, DMD FAGD, Columnist, The Times

UTStephCollogoIt’s the beginning of August and signs proclaiming back to school have been popping up everywhere.  As a mom, I approach the upcoming start of school with a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation.  As a dentist I can offer a few tidbits to make the start of school a little less hectic.

If your child is heading into kindergarten, third or seventh grade a dental examination is required by the state of Pennsylvania. These forms are usually sent home well in advance – In the case of my seventh graders, the forms came home at the end of 6th grade.   As school approaches my office is flooded with these forms.  If you lost the form, relax, they are typically available online.  If your child has had an exam within 6 months most dental offices will simply fill out the form.  If you are unable to provide your child with a visit to a private dental office, the school will make arrangements for a screening to meet the state mandated requirement. The school nurse will arrange this for you.

What is the purpose of this periodic dental evaluation?   Some studies have shown that an average of 22 percent of children have dental cavities that go untreated and more than 1 million school days are lost due to dental pain.  When we consider the huge financial investment we make in our children’s education, between state funding and property taxes, it become easier to understand why being on top of dental health makes sound fiscal sense.

Back to school means a new commitment to the morning routine.  In the race to catch the bus here are few tricks to keep oral health a priority.

First, don’t be afraid to “think outside the box.”  My son would get dressed and present himself for breakfast only to eat just fast enough to make the bus but never fast enough to go back upstairs to brush.  Yes, I know the best way for a near to teen to get under a dentist mom’s skin is to be the worst brusher on the planet.  I added a toothbrush and toothpaste right next to the dish soap at the kitchen sink, so no more having to go back upstairs and I get to witness the brushing.  Plan ahead to be sure that brushing is never the “last thing on the list.”  Pre-pasted travel brushes are great additions to the backpack.

Its fall sports season. Football camps are starting and boil and bite mouthguards are flying off the shelves.

As a dentist, I cringe when I see a player chewing on a mouth guard because it’s loose and flops around the mouth.  So here goes the rant. (Sorry folks but I have to call it like I see it).  We (as parents) spend plenty of money on cleats for our growing athletes, yet we are unwilling to get them well fitting mouthguards that cost in many cases less than half of a pair of cleats.  A custom mouthguard takes time to make and requires an impression.  Many offices can make them in the office so if you have an impression taken in the morning it’s possible (in some offices) to pick it up later that day.  There are as many brands and types of mouthguards as there are brands of cleats.  Ask your dentist, it’s not just the teeth that get protected with a mouthguard; they also lessen or prevent some concussive injuries as well.  Don’t cheap out.

Back to school means back to friends and the school social scene.  For many teens this means the perfect outfit, the perfect haircut, and a great smile.  We all know that self-esteem during the teenage years is an elusive target.  A whiter and brighter smile can boost the ego of some of our kids.  While some of the in-office processes may be too extensive and really not necessary for younger teeth, bleaching trays or a whitening pen may make a huge difference.  Kids wearing orthodontic retainers at night can benefit from a simple gel in their retainer. Ask the dentist if your teen would get a benefit from a little back-to-school whitening.

I am starting to hear the rumble of the school bus in the distance, let’s make this a great year.

Dr. Stephanie McGann is a resident of the Unionville area and along with her partner, Dr. Marie Scott, operates The Brandywine Smile Center, a family-friendly dental practice in Concordville. She is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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