by Dr. Janhavi Rane, DDS, President and CEO, Rane’s Dental Practices

It’s that time of year again! While most kids are thinking of new clothes and new supplies for the upcoming school year, it’s also an ideal time for parents to reinforce good health habits, including ways to keep your kids’ teeth in tip-top shape.

Children in the United States need and deserve to arrive on the first day of school healthy and ready to learn, according to a statement by past U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, M.D., M.P.H. But more than half of all 5-to-9-year-old children have at least one cavity or filling. And, when a child has serious tooth decay, an infectious disease for which there is no immunization and that is second only to the common cold in prevalence; it can affect overall health and lead to problems in eating, speaking and even cause school absences. Over 51 million school hours are lost each year to dental-related illness.

“Children with preventable or untreated health may have trouble concentrating and learning,” says Alycia Rodgers, M.D., AAP spokesperson. When a child has serious tooth decay, it can affect overall health and can lead to problems in eating, speaking and paying attention in class.

Most parents don’t realize that tooth decay is a bacterial disease. It remains the most common, chronic disease of children and is a key cause of tooth loss in younger people.

Here are some back to school tips for maintaining healthy smiles:

1. Schedule a trip to the dentist. Getting an exam taken care of at the beginning of the school year will save you the hassle of scheduling a visit to the dentist around school hours or after-school activities. Add a dental exam to your back-to-school preparation list: new clothes, new supplies, new dental exam!

2. Make a dental care kit for school. Brushing after lunch is the new standard! A dental care kit should at least contain a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss. Let your son or daughter pick the bag, just make sure it has a zipper closure and plastic lining and fits easily into a backpack.

3. Give your kids healthy snacks. Instead of cookies, chips or packaged snacks that contain cavity-causing sugars, give your kids wholesome goodies like fresh fruit, low-salt nuts, celery or carrot sticks, even cottage cheese or low-fat plain yogurt to eat at home or school. Your dentist will thank you for it!

4. Replace sodas and sports drinks with water. Most sodas, sports or energy drinks and even “vitamin” waters are loaded with sugar. Give your kids bottled water to take to school. For an eco-friendly option, get them reusable water bottles — some even have built-in filters!

5. Get custom-made mouthguards. Have your family dentist create custom-made mouthguards for your kids to wear during gym class or after-school activities. This simple device can protect their teeth from being broken or knocked-out by a ball, a fall or rough play.

6. Buy new toothbrushes. At our office we give you one at your recall visit every six months. Make oral hygiene fun by starting off the new school year with new toothbrushes! Older kids might enjoy the switch to an electric toothbrush.

7. Start a reward system. If your kids get a good report card at the dentist, treat it as an accomplishment. Rewards don’t have to be extravagant or expensive: make a giant tooth or star and hang it on the fridge for little ones, plan a trip to the movies for teens or just let your kids stay up an hour later!

8. Brace your kids for braces. There are now many braces options that look better and take less time. Be sure to get informed about traditional braces and Invisalign, two choices for teens today.

We have to stop separating the mouth from the rest of the body. If you are taking your child for a physical before school why would you leave his mouth out? You are healthy only if all parts of your body are healthy including your tongue, your teeth and your gums!

Rane’s dental offices in Plainsboro serve children, adults and seniors in all phases of dentistry with a goal to provide 200 percent satisfaction.

Rane’s Exclusively Yours Dental (General Dentistry for Adults and Seniors), Plainsboro Shopping Center (Beside Romeos Restaurant), 10 Schalks Crossing Road, Plainsboro. 609-275-1777. www.ranesdental.com

Rane’s Dental Aesthetics (Orthodontics and Periodontics), New Plainsboro Village (Beside 1st Constitution Bank), 11 Schalks Crossing Road, Plainsboro. 609-750-1666.

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