June 2020

Keeping Up with Oral Health During Shelter in Place


Remember that list of things parents would remind kids to do before leaving for school? “Do you have your backpack? Lunch? Did you brush your teeth?” Now that kids do not leave for school, the trigger (leaving the house) no longer reminds us of the important habit of brushing teeth in the morning.

Parents have had to make many adjustments to their parenting routines to maintain a balance during homeschooling and sheltering in place. For parents of very young children, brushing the teeth of a wiggly, cooped-up toddler may be the last thing a parent can manage. Often parents must pick and choose what to remind their kids about, and brushing teeth may be the activity that gets skipped—we completely understand. So why make oral health a priority among all the other significant challenges that families are facing right now?

Children’s cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases for children. One in four kindergarteners in Santa Cruz has at least one untreated cavity. Baby teeth need to stay healthy to hold space for healthy permanent teeth and for proper jaw and speech development. Poor oral health during childhood can lead to serious oral health problems in adulthood. Children with poor oral health miss more days of school due to dental pain and appointments.

The good news is that cavities are preventable! Before the shelter-in-place order, families could schedule and receive their regular cleanings at the dentist’s office. Children could get fluoride varnish during those visits, and cavities could be treated early. Many schools offered dental screenings and treatment onsite. Children participated in presentations and activities about good oral health at school. In other words, your children’s oral health care was supported outside of your home too. Once shelter-in-place orders began, dentists’ offices had to close, except for emergency appointments. As of May, however, dentist offices are beginning to reopen up their practices, following strict safety guidelines. Schools are still closed, which removes school-based dental services and oral health education for children. But all is not lost! Good oral hygiene begins at home, and it counts as great preventive dental care, too!

Follow these simple tips to support good oral health at home:

  • Continue to brush for 2 minutes, 2 times a day and floss.
    For young children: Help your young child brush their teeth (wiggles and all) and help them with flossing. Cavities can form in between the teeth, but flossing helps remove the sugars (plaque) that can build up and cause decay there. Flossing also helps to keep the gums healthy. Ideally, floss first before brushing.
    For older children: Remind (and remind again) your older children to floss and brush their teeth. Parents can model good oral health habits by brushing and flossing their own teeth with their children.
  • Continue to limit sugary snacks and beverages and offer fresh fruits and vegetables, instead. The extra snacking and the sweets common during sheltering in place can increase the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.
  • Call your dentist to ask about the services they are offering now. It is possible that you and your family can schedule appointments. Do not wait until a current dental issue becomes an emergency.

Our homes are a great place to maintain our health during shelter in place. Even though this is such a challenging time, please remember that small, simple steps make big and important differences. Wash your hands often, floss, and brush for 2 minutes, 2 times a day. The good news is that cavities are preventable and good oral hygiene habits can last a lifetime. And remember that good oral health contributes to good overall health!

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