We are living through a strange and unprecedented time. Children are out of their normal routines and lockdown is presenting a real parenting challenge for most — but you are likely to be doing an amazing job in these extraordinary times — nobody has it all figured out but here are some of my top tips on keeping your children’s teeth healthy.
Children’s routines have been heavily impacted by Covid-19, but providing routine and structure at home can give children some predictability during these uncertain times. Daily routines and habits are something we do automatically — disruption of a routine may mean we forget to do things we usually do — for example, forgetting to brush teeth until lunchtime!
Something as simple as your child’s toothbrushing routine can offer structure for children, which in addition to keeping their teeth healthy, may also help to manage any anxiety that your child may be experiencing. Dentists advise brushing teeth for two minutes twice per day with an appropriate fluoride toothpaste* last thing at night and on at least one other occasion — try and be consistent with this timing — to maximise benefits of routines!
‘Snack time’ is something that is also an important part of school children’s daily routines and it’s important to maintain this too. Dentists advise reducing the amount and frequency of sugar intake, so try and stick to healthy snacks, no more than a couple of times per day. Healthy snacks include: fresh fruit and raw vegetables, low salt breadsticks and rice cakes, low salt cheese, whole grain toast and sandwiches, homemade popcorn with no added salt or sugar, plain natural or Greek yoghurt and baked crisps.
If your child usually has a biscuit as a once a week snack in school (such as on a Friday) this is ok too — although opt for lower sugar versions when possible. It may be difficult to get some fresh produce during this time, so try and stock up on cupboard essentials such as: frozen fruit, frozen veg and tinned fruits in natural juices. The majority of schools now only allow plain milk and plain water, which are the best drinks for teeth, so try and stick to this at home too.
HYGIENE AND PERSONAL SELF CARE
Recent events have made us all value our own health more. It is important to recognise oral health as part of our general health and well-being, tooth decay is largely preventable, yet in some cases can have a significant impact on a child’s development. Children have recently learnt a lot about hand washing and its importance to reduce the spread of germs, so now is an ideal time to link up toothbrushing as a preventative habit and teach kids about the importance of basic hygiene and personal self-care.
BAKING AND HOME COOKING
The increased amount of time that many of us have at home and requirement to home school may give us an opportunity to bake and prepare and cook healthy meals together and eat
together. You can link science in the form of health and nutrition to this daily activity and role model positive behaviours around food. You can also incorporate maths, such as: what has more/less sugar (you may even be surprised with some of the answers yourself!) and teach children the basics of the traffic light food labelling system, encouraging them to select foods that have all or mostly green on their labels. Avoid adding sugar, fruit juices, honey and fruit purée to recipes to reduce sugar content and sweetness, also do not add salt to foods.
PLAY AND FUN ACTIVITIES
As we find ourselves trying to navigate home schooling, it’s important to remember that focussing on play and fun is good for health, well-being and educational outcomes. There are lots of dental learning resources available (link) and simple yet effective experiments you can try at home-from collecting stones and painting them to resemble the different teeth and cleaning them with laces/brushes to putting eggs or coins into different drinks to see the effect on them. There is also an opportunity for family time in the form of dental games (such as crocodile dentist, playdoh), books (Peppa Pig dentist trip), activities and TV programmes.
Following on from clapping for our keyworkers, encourage your child to do something kind for someone else and if you are in a position to do so, consider donating toothbrushes and/or toothpaste to the local food/hygiene bank.
As we utilise our daily exercise time and spend more time at home, there is potentially an increased risk of dental trauma from: bouncy castles and trampolines, bikes and scooters, so be mindful to assess the risk associated with these activities to reduce the likelihood of a dental trauma.
Dentists are still open to give telephone advice and refer to urgent care centres if appropriate-if you have any dental concerns give your own/local dentist a call, if it is out of hours, try calling your local out of hours service or NHS 111.
Prevention is key! You may find yourself due for a routine dental check-up which is presently postponed. To maintain good oral health, remember to brush teeth twice daily with an appropriate fluoride toothpaste and reduce both the amount and frequency of sugar consumption.