Even at the best of times, parents know that instilling good, consistent oral health habits in their children can be a challenge. Now, with COVID-19 turning family life upside down, sticking to those healthy habits and routines can feel more difficult than ever. In this article, we’ll discuss how COVID-19 has impacted oral health habits, and how dental students can support the whole family in getting back on track.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many schools and workplaces were closed. Children had to adjust to online learning from home, with parents having to balance their own work responsibilities with overseeing their children’s education. With the additional stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and the loss of social support systems, the disruption felt by the majority of families was immense.
Under these stressful circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that healthy oral hygiene habits may have suffered. Regular morning and bedtime routines often provide the cues for oral care, but without the structure of a typical day, good brushing habits can fall away. With extra-stressful days to contend with, parents may also not be as diligent about enforcing these habits as they’d usually be.
Some families have found their dietary habits changing under lockdown, too. Parents may not have as much time or energy to cook nutritious meals, while children may not be able to resist the temptation of all-day access to snacks and sweet treats.
A regular dental appointment would ideally pick up on any risk factors for dental caries in pediatric patients. However, as we know all too well, many practices were forced to close their doors to routine appointments during the earlier days of the pandemic. For our young patients, that has led to missed opportunities for timely intervention and appropriate care.
1. Involve the parents.
To avoid detrimental long-term effects on their oral health, it’s essential that we explain the importance of good oral hygiene and dietary habits to our young patients in an age-appropriate way. However, we also need to make sure their parents understand its importance, too.
Research has consistently shown that one of the key determinants in children’s oral health is the support of their parents. They will be the ones reinforcing healthy behaviors at home, so it’s essential to have them on board.
Parents ultimately want the best for their children and may feel embarrassed or guilty about their child’s oral health habits slipping. Explain any problems and offer your advice in a non-judgmental manner. Reassure them that you understand how uniquely stressful this time has been for families, and that you’re here to help.
2. Recommend the right products.
You can counsel parents on the best oral health products for their children and how to use them effectively.
Recommend a toothpaste specially designed for children, like Colgate mild mint gel toothpaste. It includes an age-appropriate level of fluoride for enhanced cavity protection, and has a delicious Bubble Fruit® flavor that your young patients will love.
For children ages three to six, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association both recommend using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. For children under age three, the recommendation is to use just a smear.
To help make brushing more enjoyable and engaging, we can recommend a colorful kid’s toothbrush with their favorite animals or characters, like the Colgate Barbie or Batman toothbrushes.
You can even recommend an app-connected smart toothbrush, which turns brushing into an augmented reality game. Children get to conquer weird and wonderful monsters as they brush, collecting points and levelling up with each successful brushing session. Meanwhile, parents can track their child's brushing habits in their own dashboard and intervene where necessary.
3. Emphasize the important of regular appointments.
If detected in the early stages, dental caries can be arrested or even reversed, preventing invasive treatment and discomfort for children later on. Explain to parents that we can only achieve this with regular dental appointments, and encourage them to book their child’s next appointment before they leave.
4. Recommend helpful home resources.
It can be hard to remember everything we’ve talked about in the chair, especially for children. Direct parents to educational resources that will reinforce your advice at home and help them to encourage good habits in their children.
Colgate’s Bright Smiles, Bright Futures has a wide range of free online resources for both parents and children, offering helpful advice on good oral hygiene and dietary habits. You can also join them to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s family-based Mouth Monsters website, featuring tips, ideas and games for engaging children in their oral health, and parents to its parent resources.