Back to school, back to the dentist, it’s the law

Tooth decay is one of the biggest health issues among children, accounting for over 51 million hours of school time lost every year. What’s more, poor dental health in youth can lead to chronic problems like discomfort, difficulty chewing and the need for painful and expensive procedures down the road.

An annual back-to-school dental checkup is an easy way to help prevent these problems. It’s so important, that several states — including California, Oregon and New York — actually require children to get a dental exam before entering public school.

Regular dental exams do more than catch tooth decay. They also let us see if teeth are growing in properly, monitor the results of their brushing and flossing techniques (and give lessons, if necessary), and apply fluoride treatments or protective sealants that can prevent decay before it happens. If your kids play sports or engage in other activities that might cause oral injuries, we can fit them for protective mouth guards.

If your kids are in college, planning checkups during school breaks can ensure that they’re receiving regular professional dental care. And even if they’re too young for school, your kids are probably old enough to go to the dentist. The ADA recommends babies start seeing a dentist when their first tooth comes in, usually when they’re between 6 and 12 months old.

So while you’re making back-to-school plans, plan on bringing your kids in for a visit. And for extra credit, try these fun tips for sending them to school with a smile:

1. Buy new toothbrushes: While they’re getting new notebooks, pens and other supplies, why not let them pick out a new toothbrush? While you’re at it, pick up two — one for home and one to bring to school.

2. Make a dental care kit for school: To encourage them to brush after lunch and snacks, buy a zippered plastic-lined bag and include a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss.

3. Pack dental-friendly lunches and snacks: Fruit, nuts, string cheese and bottled water are all good choices. Avoid sticky foods like raisins or fruit leather, as they can cause cavities.

4. Start a reward system: Encourage good dental exams like you encourage good grades — with a prize like a night at the movies, a new video game or other coveted item.