Back to School Dental Tips for Kids and Parents

Back to School Dental Tips for Kids and Parents

We asked local dentists and hygienists how to help kids and parents take care of their teeth heading into the busy school year. Here are some of the great tips and tricks they shared with us!

Rachelle Ross-Larkin, Registered Dental Hygienist, New Minas Dental Centre

How can parents set kids up for dental health first thing in the morning?

Are you continually missing the morning brushing due to time constraints? If so, have or help your child brush first thing in the morning when they get out of bed. If your child hasn’t developed the dexterity to do a good job brushing on their own, you will need to help them do this. Brushing twice a day will reduce the risk of creating the harmful acids that may erode your child’s teeth.

If you see or suspect anything unusual in your child’s mouth, or your child is complaining of discomfort, see a dental professional. Additionally, keep regular dental checkups and hygiene appointments. MSI covers dental hygiene appointments once a year for children up to the end of the month they turn 15, but it is recommended for most children to have two appointments a year.

Dr. Andy Nette, SeaPort Dental, Port Williams

How long should kids brush?

I have always emphasized to young and old that one thorough cleaning a day is much better than two or three rushed efforts. Bacteria are a normal and healthy resident in our mouths, it’s plaque that does the damage. Plaque is bacteria that has had the opportunity to organize itself into symbiotic layers, and plaque takes at least 24 undisturbed hours to form. So taking the time, once a day, to thoroughly clean around and between (think floss!) every tooth, preferably at bedtime, is much better than a few swipes of a toothbrush three times a day.

It takes about two minutes to thoroughly brush an adult mouth of 28-32 teeth. A five year old has 20 teeth, an eight year old 24, so a full two minutes may not be required for a child.

Years ago I had a young adult who just couldn’t seem to devote the time required to thoroughly brush his teeth once a day. We learned that he was a big Elvis fan, so we recommended that he play a two-minute Elvis hit while he brushed, and this seemed to do the trick for him!

At what age are kids ready to brush by themselves?

Children vary in their abilities and dexterity at different ages. I have often suggested to parents that when a child is old enough to tie their own shoe laces, they can probably brush their teeth thoroughly.

Stay involved! Notice how much time they they take to brush, and if they’re being methodical: we should all have a consistent pattern of brushing, starting, for example, on the outside of the upper teeth, brushing all the way around the outside upper to the other side, then switching to the inside of the uppers, and back around to the side where we started. Repeat for the lowers.

Youngsters want to brush themselves! That’s all well and good, but as their caregiver, insist on doing it for them first, then they can take over.

Flossing is hard enough to do for ourselves, and even more challenging to do for someone else, especially if they’re squirming! Use a “floss pick” to floss your child’s teeth, the little plastic pre-mounted floss holders. Having the child lie on the couch beside you, with their head in your lap, makes this easier for both parties. Then get up and head to the bathroom for the brushing part.


Dr. Sara Moore, Wolfville Dentistry

How often should kids floss?

When teeth touch each other, the only way to sufficiently clean between them is by flossing. Children should be flossing every day. Flossing before bedtime is best, but it’s important for a child to consistently make flossing part of their daily routine. If there’s a specific time of day that works better in their daily routine choose this time. Making flossing a habit early in your child’s life can go a long way in maintaining their dental health.

What are the worst sorts of school snacks when it comes to preserving dental health? What are some of the best choices? What’s the best planning for dealing with school lunches?

Sugary drinks and sweet, sticky snacks are some of the worst choices for school snacks. Avoiding pop, candy, and other junk food is often obvious to parents but some foods that we may think of as ‘healthy’ can be loaded with sugar and be just as harmful to our teeth.

Raisins and other dried fruit, gummy fruit snacks, fruit preserved in syrup, and granola bars are all high in sugar and, because they are sticky, they can stick to our teeth and stay there, feeding the cavity-causing bacteria in our mouth long after we’re done eating. Juice and chocolate milk are also very high in sugar. Water is always best but If your child drinks juice or milk (white or chocolate) it is best for them to enjoy this in one sitting at a mealtime. Sipping on sweet drinks throughout the day can be quite harmful because it supplies a constant stream of sugary fuel to the cavity-causing bacteria in our mouths.

Some better choices for school snacks from a dental perspective are fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, or cheese. When planning for school lunches having these snacks prepared and readily available can make it easier when trying to get out the door in the morning.

The take-home message is being aware of where sugar can be ‘hidden’ in foods, and trying to limit these in your child’s diet. With proper and consistent brushing and flossing these foods can be enjoyed in moderation without detriment to your child’s dental health.