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Shelley Shearer: The ongoing homeschooling class — the never-ending one of dental hygiene for your kids

Many Kentucky parents sighed a collective sound of relief when they learned their homeschooling sessions were about to end for the summer. But there’s one homeschooling session that should forever be part of the family learning dynamic—dental hygiene. It should be easiest for families used to NTI (Non-Traditional Instruction). NTI was created to keep education moving when classroom buildings are not accessible. Think of NTI as a hybrid of task-based learning rather than time-based instruction. It allows for creativity and exploration to abound.

This ongoing NTI-like “dental class” can actually be one of the most creative, fun-loving learning sessions you can have with your children. Really! Here’s the plan for how the class plays out to create fun-filled sessions that will preserve children’s teeth, save you money, and contribute to their overall health.

Dr. Shelley Shearer

Dental Hygiene for Elementary School Children

There are no limits to how creative parents can get with these sessions. Here’s a quick primer:

1. Decide when you will meet to discuss dental health. Perhaps the kids can get an overview of information at the same time once a week and then show off their skills before bedtime.

2. The class consists of discussing brushing techniques, flossing daily, avoiding sugary foods and how often the brushing and flossing should occur. Several child-oriented videos are available on-line to be shown during “class time.”

3. Show them how to properly brush and floss by having them watch you. This “lab time” is a perfect situation for leading by example. Perhaps a favorite song can play for two minutes, demonstrating how long a tooth-brushing session should last.

4. Test what they have learned through dental bingo. Draw or create on the computer a square with three rows of three spaces. A sheet can be made for each child with keywords from their lessons such as brush, floss, cavity, tooth, dentist, toothpaste, smile, mouth, toothbrush, molar, enamel and tooth fairy. The child who wins gets a sticker on the refrigerator chart. Once their chart row is filled, they receive a prize. The award can be a coveted experience like extra pool time or an item–their favorite snack or a special book.

5. Keep momentum going with fun games. A favorite is “hide the toothbrush.” A brand new toothbrush depicting a cartoon character is hidden in the house. The first to find it gets to keep it as a replacement for when their current brush has lost effectiveness.

6. Prepare your students for a “field trip” to the dentist. Remind them what will happen. They will also need to know the new rules per COVID-19. This will alleviate any fears they have when they see a near-empty waiting room and the staff wearing masks and shields.

Dental Hygiene for Pre-Schoolers

According to the American Dental Association, tooth decay is the number one dental problem among preschoolers. In fact, one out of 10 two-year-olds already has one or more cavities. By age three, 28% of kids have one or more cavities. By age five, nearly 50% have one or more cavities.

Dentists constantly discover that parents hold the false belief that cavities in baby teeth don’t matter because they will lose them anyway. The truth is that dental decay in baby teeth can negatively affect permanent teeth and lead to future dental problems.

A parent’s lesson plan for such little ones includes the basics. As soon as teeth pop in, parents can gently brush the baby teeth with a child-size toothbrush and water. Soon, toothpaste the size smaller than a pea can be used. Brushing to music can create a bedtime ritual that will continue with them without assistance. A spirited child may want to take over the task by age three. This can help develop a habit that will last a lifetime.

Also, by age three, a pea-sized amount of toothpaste can be used with the hope that the little one wants to take command of brushing. The trick is to dissuade the child from swallowing the toothpaste. Swallowing too much fluoride can make white or brown spots on the child’s adult teeth. Continuing to brush to music makes the task go quicker. The more compliant they are, the better chance they have of winning a prize—a Sponge Bob toothbrush or other character-decorated brush.

As teeth come in by age three, they are ready for a field trip to the dental office where more fun awaits. Dentists have a common desire to start kids on the correct path to dental well-being. It’s done with fun. Most offices now have cartoons and movies to watch and prizes for good behavior.

While the school session may end for the summer, dental training doesn’t cease until the teen years. Enjoy the time with your child, knowing that you are creating lifetime habits and a beautiful smile that will warm your heart for years to come every time you see your child.

Dr. Shelley Shearer is a graduate of the University of Louisville Dental School and Founder of Shearer Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Florence, the largest all-female dental practice in Northern Kentucky.

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