HCN News & Notes

Massachusetts Dentists Encourage Back-to-school Dental Exams

SOUTHBOROUGH — With a new school year just around the corner, the Massachusetts Dental Society (MDS) is encouraging parents to schedule their children’s back-to-school dental exams now.

“Making sure children have a dental checkup before they go back to school is important to ensuring their teeth are healthy and cavity-free,” said Dr. Janis Moriarty, president of the MDS and a general dentist practicing in Winchester. “Oral health is a critical component of overall health, and children can’t concentrate and learn in school when they have a toothache.”

According to the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dental caries, or tooth decay, is the most common chronic disease in children — about five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than  hay fever. Untreated cavities can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t. In the U.S., more than 34 million school hours are lost each year due to dental problems.

Fortunately, cavities are preventable. The CDC notes that fluoride varnish can prevent about one-third of cavities in primary (baby) teeth. Children living in communities with fluoridated tap water have fewer cavities than children who live in areas where tap water is not fluoridated. Similarly, children who brush daily with fluoride toothpaste will have fewer cavities. Dental sealants can also prevent cavities. 

Parents are encouraged to steer their kids away from sticky treats like fruit snacks and candy. Even seemingly good-for-you snacks, like raisins, can stick to teeth and cause decay. Instead, parents should pack a variety of mouth-healthy foods in their children’s lunchboxes, like fruits, veggies, yogurt, cheese sticks, or whole-grain crackers. Packing a bottle of water instead of a sugary soda or sports drink is a better choice because teeth that are exposed regularly to sugar and acid from these drinks are at increased risk of cavities and the breakdown of dental enamel.

“Sports injuries also can be a big pain in the mouth for students and expensive for parents,” Moriarty added. “Athletes who play contact sports should always wear a mouthguard designed to prevent injury to the teeth, lips, cheeks, and tongue.” 

Several types of mouthguards are available, but custom-made mouthguards, which can be fitted by a dentist, are best in terms of fit, comfort, and protection. The next best option is a ‘boil-and-bite’ version, which is less expensive and available at sporting goods stores, but may not fit as well as a custom-made one. Ready-made or stock mouthguards are also available, but they cannot be shaped to the contours of the teeth and may sometimes interfere with breathing and speaking.

“Visiting the dentist for a biannual exam and cleaning, eating nutritious foods, brushing and flossing on a daily basis, and wearing a mouthguard while playing sports are essential for a cavity- and pain-free school year,” Moriarty said.