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children’s dental health

Back-to-School Health Checklist

August marks back-to-school season, an ideal time for Texas parents to help improve their children’s health. Before schedules become packed with classes, homework and extracurricular activities, here’s a back-to-school “health checklist” to help give children a better chance to succeed inside and outside the classroom: 

Get a Comprehensive Eye Exam 

About 80% of what children learn is through their eyes. With that in mind, a child’s first comprehensive eye exam should occur before age 1, again at age 3 and before entering school If no vision issues are detected, school-aged children should have an exam at least once every two years. Also, a school’s vision screening is not a substitute for a comprehensive eye exam, as screenings can miss conditions such as poor eye alignment, focusing issues and farsightedness. 

The inability to see clearly can affect a child’s physical, emotional and social development, which in turn can affect academic and athletic performance. Children often don’t complain if their vision isn’t normal, so it’s important to look for possible signs such as squinting while reading or watching television, difficulty hitting or catching a ball or headaches when watching 3D movies. 

Also, be aware of digital eye strain, which is caused by prolonged use of computers or smartphones. Help your child practice healthy vision habits by keeping computer screens at least 30 inches from their eyes, resting their eyes every 20 minutes and blinking frequently to avoid dry eyes.  

Get a Dental Cleaning 

Maintaining proper oral health matters more than just keeping a sparkling smile – it’s also important for good overall health. This is especially true for children, as untreated dental problems may diminish attention, decrease self-esteem and limit a child’s ability to learn at school. 

Tooth decay is largely preventable, yet it ranks as the most common chronic disease among children. About 33% of young kids, ages 2 to 8, have cavities in their baby teeth, and 20% of kids in the same age group have cavities in their adult teeth. With that in mind, parents should schedule regular dental exams every six months, especially at schools that require a back-to-school dental checkup.

For parents with teenagers, it is important to recognize the risks of opioid addiction, especially after wisdom teeth removal. If you or a loved one is prescribed an opioid following a dental or other medical procedure, ask your health care professional if there are alternatives, including over-the-counter pain relievers such as a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen.   

Get Recommended Immunizations 

Many schools in Texas require that children are properly immunized before they enter the classroom to help to avoid serious diseases and prevent other students from contracting them. Children’s vaccines are 90-99% effective and may help protect kids from diseases such as mumps, tetanus and chicken pox. By helping reduce the risk of contracting potentially preventable diseases such as the flu, children may have fewer school absences. 

Parents should check with their doctor to determine what immunizations are appropriate based on age. Most shots are given by the time children are 2 years old, but some are administered into the teen years. If your child runs a low-grade fever or has swelling in the shot location after the immunization, these minor side effects typically last a couple days. Apply a cool, wet washcloth on the sore area to help ease discomfort, but check with your doctor about the appropriateness of over-the-counter pain medications.

Back-to-school season is an exciting time for many children and their parents. Consider these guidelines to help encourage your child’s health and success throughout the school year.  

Texas Earns a High Grade for Managing Children’s Dental Health

Stock Photo
Stock Photo

According to a recent survey by the Pew Center on the States, only half of the 50 U.S. states—including Texas—earned grades of “A” or “B” for managing children’s oral health. Grades were based on key measures such as optimally fluoridated water and availability of school-based dental programs.

Tooth decay is largely preventable, yet it ranks as the most common chronic disease among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 33 percent of young kids (ages 2 to 8) have cavities in their baby teeth, and 20 percent of kids in the same age group have cavities in their adult teeth, according to the CDC.

Some people believe baby teeth are not overly important, yet decay in baby teeth can lead to speech problems, oral infections and damaged adult teeth, according to the CDC. It’s important to keep baby teeth healthy and in place to help permanent teeth come in properly.

Maintaining proper oral health among children is helped by following these tips:

For baby’s teeth and gums:

  • Never put a baby to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, fruit juice or sweetened liquid. When these liquids pool in a baby’s mouth, they form a sugary film on the baby’s teeth, leading to decay and infection.
  • Starting at birth, clean the baby’s gums with water and a soft cloth or child-sized toothbrush. Once a child reaches age 2, parents can start brushing a baby’s teeth with a soft bristled toothbrush and a smear-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste (no larger than a grain of rice), making sure to teach the toddler to spit out the toothpaste.
  • Schedule the baby’s first dental visit when the first tooth comes in, usually between the child’s first six to 12 months.

For children’s teeth and gums:

  • Help your child brush twice a day with a small amount of fluoride toothpaste; for children ages 3 to 6, this means a pea-sized dab. Make sure your child does not swallow toothpaste, which may expose them to too much fluoride.
  • Begin flossing when back teeth begin to come in. Toothbrush bristles cannot reach between teeth, leaving those teeth vulnerable to bacteria and decay.
  • Limit sugary snacks and drinks between meals. When sugar comes in contact with teeth, decay-causing bacteria can produce acids that damage your child’s teeth. Encourage children to eat healthy snacks, such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Take your child to the dentist regularly and ask about fluoride supplements, which make the tooth enamel strong and help protect it from decay. For most children, that means visiting the dentist twice a year.
  • Sealants are plastic coatings placed on back teeth to protect them from decay, and they are sometimes covered as a preventive service by dental plans. Ask the dentist about placing sealants for your child once he/she turns 6, when molars first come in.