Tooth Brushing and Academic Achievement

Can assisting your kids with tooth brushing help with academic achievement?
Van Orenstein, DMD
Board Certified Pediatric Dentist

And the answer is:  Absolutely!

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, caries — the process which causes dental cavities — is the most common chronic disease of childhood in the US.  By the time they enter kindergarten, 40% of children have had at least one cavity.  Not only is it crucial for overall health to have healthy teeth, but it is also important for nutrition, self-esteem, and general development.

When they have dental pain, many children may not act like themselves.  Pain can have an adverse effect on school attendance and test performance.  Dental caries and malocclusions can also have an effect on social development and confidence.

“So how do I avoid these problems?”

While the answer itself is not too complicated, daily brushing and flossing can sometimes be more intricate than people think.  Many times, dental problems can result secondarily from the complexities of family life.  With so many activities during the day and so many pressures on today’s young ones, what parent hasn’t thought,  “the last thing I need is a struggle right before bed?”

By following these 5 rules of thumb, you will be in good shape to keep those teeth healthy, pain-free, and complementing your positive lifestyle.

1.  Motivate!
Isn’t it a wonderful thing that every child is different?  Some love video games, some love art projects, and some love sports.  So why would we use a one-size-fits-all technique for motivating our children to maintain their oral health?  In addition to oral hygiene, think about the numerous tasks that kids have to include in their daily routines.  All of these activities are important, therefore  it is a must to have a tooth-cleaning strategy focused on what will work for each individual child.  We are lucky enough today to have Star Wars toothbrushes that play music and cool electric toothbrushes for kids; there are apps and timers and choices galore.  Consider how your child responds to motivation.  Combine this with some personal interests to help choose the right modality for their daily oral habits.

2.  Lend a hand to children under 8.
Many parents think that letting a child brush his or her own teeth leads to an independence and teaches them important skills.  And, they’re right!  But that does not mean that a child has the dexterity to access every surface of the teeth where bacteria will reside for a long time if it’s not removed.  By letting children brush alone, and then helping clean the difficult areas when they’re done, we can accomplish the best of both worlds.

3.  Floss nightly.
Yes, nightly.  As much as 40% of the tooth’s structure is not being cleaned through brushing alone.  So work on flossing with your children.  Developing good habits at an early age tends to lead to good habits as a child matures, and leads to healthy habits into adulthood.  Just like brushing, flossing can be difficult for a younger child.  Give your children a hand with flossing.  It doesn’t take as long as you think, but it can help reduce cavities in-between the teeth, improve gum health, and lead to a much healthier oral health into adulthood.

4.   Visit your pediatric dentist every 6 months.
A pediatric dentist has extensive training with child psychology, growth and development issues, and the specialized treatment that may be needed for children’s teeth.   At every biannual visit, we check for emerging issues, reinforce home hygiene, and evaluate growth and development issues, in addition to cleaning the teeth of plaque and calculus (a form of hardened dental plaque).  Digital radiography can now even find little issues before they become big. This gives us time to circumvent or correct emerging dental issues.

5.  Practice what you preach.
Like it or not, your kids emulate you, and they will absorb your good habits.  They will also see your anxieties.  We owe it to ourselves and to our families to have just as good oral health as we ask of our children.  Make it a fun activity.  Take 2 minutes every night and have a family brushing session.  This will allow you to make sure that your kids are actually cleaning their teeth.  It will also allow you to give them a hand and assist with the more difficult areas to clean.


Dr. Van Orenstein is a board certified pediatric dentist.  He grew up in and is practicing in Newton, Massachusetts.

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