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Helping children learn about oral health is fun for teachers, parents

The more children understand about their oral health, the more likely they will be to adopt habits to help them keep their teeth long after they've grown up.

Talking with children about their oral health can be a rewarding activity for teachers and parents alike. In addition to school classrooms, there are other groups that serve children who could benefit from oral health education activities. Examples include Boys and Girls Clubs, Head Start programs, faith-based youth groups and the YMCA/YWCA.

Even at home, there are fun activities parents can do with their children to emphasize the importance of taking care of their teeth and maintaining optimal oral health. Here are a few ideas:

Disclose invisible plaque — Mix three or four drops of red food color with a few tablespoons of water in a paper cup. Ask a child to swish the colored water around in his or her mouth for ten seconds and carefully spit it out into a second cup or nearby sink. Have the child look in a magnifying mirror and identify the red areas indicating plaque. Then, ask the child to brush his or her teeth with toothpaste and a new toothbrush. Repeat the disclosing procedure to see how much of the plaque is gone and discuss the areas where plaque hides.

Perform a flossing demonstration — Discuss dental floss and flossing with children. Show them floss, then have two of them demonstrate flossing using yarn. One child holds his or her hands together with fingers straight up and tight against each other to imitate the teeth. The other child uses yarn to floss between the fingers.

Demonstrate how dental sealants protect chewing surfaces of teeth — Assemble two antacid tablets, vinegar, two small paper cups and a small piece of plastic wrap. This is a test to see how the plastic coating (dental sealant) protects a pretend tooth (antacid tablet) from the vinegar acid (plaque plus sugar). Wrap one antacid tablet in plastic wrap; leave the other tablet unwrapped. Place each tablet in a separate paper cup and cover both with vinegar. Wait five minutes and pour off the vinegar. The acid in the vinegar will have begun to dissolve the unwrapped antacid tablet (tooth without dental sealant). Unwrap the plastic from the other antacid tablet to show the plastic wrap protected it from the acid, just like a dental sealant.

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