I’ve been thinking a lot about teeth brushing lately as we go through the fall seasons – State Fair of Texas, Halloween, the holidays – and all the treats that come with these events. Teeth brushing is a healthy habit that I feel we can help young kids establish early to set them up for their whole lives.
We all have hopes and optimism for our children that they’re going to do great things with their lives. When we think about these children as adults, we hope they’ll be healthy. In the classroom, we can help create these healthy habits. If we help children learn to take care of their bodies, we can help them feel great on the inside and the outside.
Momentous School is accredited by The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and teeth brushing is one of the standards. It’s never been part of my routine at previous schools where I have taught. But now that our accreditation asks us to have it available, I have started adding it to my routine the last couple of years.
But in addition to that, I know that not every family is aware of how to practice good dental hygiene at home. Growing up, brushing twice a day and flossing after every meal wasn’t a habit that my parents taught me. I don’t fault my parents for this – it wasn’t a habit they were practicing, and they did the best they could with the information they had available to them. But I see that for many families, children aren’t aware of some of the good practices that they could be doing in their daily routine, and I see school as an opportunity to provide that skill development.
We brush our teeth daily after lunch. The goal is that students will have brushed their teeth in the morning before coming to school. We go through our day and the students know that after we read our story, we’ll transition to teeth brushing.
We have a small rack that holds all our toothbrushes, and each brush has a cover to protect it. We only have one sink in our classroom, so to manage this process, I provide a small paper cup for each student with a small bit of water in it, and a pea-size dab of toothpaste on the inside lip of the cup. The students line up and grab their toothbrushes and a cup and return to their seats.
With kids this young, it always helps to model and have them copy. I brush my teeth alongside them and instruct them to copy what I do. When my mouth is open, theirs should be open. When mine is closed, theirs should be closed. I set a timer for two minutes and we brush until I tell them to stop. Then they pour the water from their cup into their mouth, swish it around, and spit it back into the cup. They line back up by the sink and pour their liquid down the drain and toss out the cup. They put the cover back on their toothbrush and put it away.
I would say to start small. Maybe once a week you can find time to build in teeth brushing and see what your students gain from that. Once a week it is possible to build this in, maybe after lunch, maybe first thing in the morning if they eat breakfast at school, maybe after snack time. I would just encourage a teacher to tell students that they’re going to practice one healthy habit today. We have toothbrushes and toothpaste on our supply list, but the school provided the little covers and the holder. We also have extras of everything as backups.
I think about how many adults are not confident because of their smile. I know so many people who don’t want to show their teeth when they smile. This affects our mental health. I know someone who is the same age as me who doesn’t have his front teeth and covers his mouth when he speaks. It hurts my heart to see. I’m not sure the reason why this particular person is missing teeth, but I do know that not taking care of your dental hygiene can cause people to have challenges like this with their confidence.
Our physical health and our mental health are linked. Taking care of our physical appearance and health helps us have stronger mental health. I want to help my students have self-esteem, to feel that they can be in spaces and smile, talk and not worry about what their teeth look like. Just one less thing for them to worry about mentally. And I want them to understand that we take care of our bodies to help take care of our mental health.
This issue is important to me because I recently had a health scare that really caused me to want to take care of my health, especially my teeth. This is something that is really personal for me. I didn’t expect to get emotional when I talk about this, but it does make me emotional!
It hurts my heart to see some children who are not aware of dental hygiene, that could result in silver caps and fillings. I am not judging any parent at all. I completely understand the challenges that parents face to afford medical care, to have access to regular doctor and dentist visits, and so on. I think there are things we can all be doing to be proactive instead of reactive. Small practices we can put in place to avoid later medical complications and bills, and also to take care of our physical and future mental health. And if we can help with this in the classroom, it’s such a small thing we can do that could have a big impact!