Over the past year, we have become aware of our health perhaps in a way like never before. Adjusting to the radical changes brought on by COVID-19, for the most part, has been difficult. Our daily lives have been altered by working from home, transitioning to online schooling, and the constant worrying about our well-being and that of our loved ones. Normal everyday life has been redefined and in the process, some of our routine practices like caring for our oral health has been deferred. During this time, we’ve noticed that families are facing many of the same challenges in maintaining their children’s oral health. In this blog, we are specifically addressing the concerns we’ve been receiving in regards to the impact that COVID-19 has had on our pediatric patients’ oral health and are providing tips that can help.
Returning to Previous Sucking Habits:
One concern that has come up frequently is children regressing to old oral habits, such as thumb sucking and pacifier use. In this time of stress, both habits can provide a sense of comfort and security to kids. However, when these habits persist, they can adversely affect the position of the teeth and the development of the mouth. Long-term implications include the need for potential orthodontic treatment to correct any dental alterations from the habit. Fortunately, there are several techniques that can help curb the habit and prevent such changes to the teeth.
- Using positive reinforcement techniques: Using a sticker chart, your child can earn a sticker for each day that he or she does not engage in their habit. After filling up a whole month, they can receive a well-deserved reward. This way, they can visualize their progress and keep motivated!
- Offering an alternative means of comfort in place of their paci or thumb. For example, a new teddy bear, soft blanket, or bedtime story can offer similar comforts so that your little one will feel ready to leave their old habit behind.
- Giving gentle reminders when trying to wean off these habits. Putting too much pressure may result in a power struggle and in further regression.
- Chatting with your pediatric dentist who can help tailor the habit breaking method to your child’s needs.
Increase in Teeth Grinding:
Lately, we have also been receiving more questions regarding teeth grinding. While grinding in children can be a response to teething, certain medications, genetics, or other conditions like sleep apnea, it can also be in response to stressful times like these. Continued grinding can wear down the enamel, resulting in weaker and more sensitive teeth. Although there’s no quick fix to remove the stressor that’s causing the grinding– there are, however, ways to reduce the frequency.
Breathing exercises: When you inhale deeply and then exhale, your teeth will naturally separate and your facial muscles relax. You can ask your child to pretend they are blowing bubbles encouraging them to exhale and thereby, alleviating the muscle tension caused by grinding. Routinely doing these breathing exercises can help your child form a positive association between deep breathing and a relaxed oral state, where grinding may no longer happen
Changes in Dietary Habits:
We have also been seeing that the disruption in routine has affected our patients’ dietary habits. With online schooling and more time spent at home, kids have been snacking more frequently and treats that are normally reserved for special occasions have become more accessible.
Frequent snacking causes the pH of the mouth to drop, which over time, weakens tooth enamel and increases the chances for cavities to develop. Additionally, sticky, carbohydrate filled treats like fruit snacks and goldfish linger on teeth long after eating them, which then keeps the mouth in an acidic state for longer. To promote healthy eating patterns…
- Consolidating the sweet foods and drinks into one sitting rather than grazing and snacking slowly over the course of several hours.
- Offering water after snacks and throughout the day to help neutralize the pH of the mouth. This way, food particles and sugary drinks will be washed off the teeth surfaces, preventing acid erosion and cavity formation.
- Selecting snacks that are less sticky and retentive on the teeth. Here’s a link to some child-friendly recipes that are not only fun but also tooth-friendly that you can try at home.
Changes to The Oral Hygiene Routine:
Oral hygiene routines, such as brushing and flossing, have also been disrupted by our new norm. With schooling from home, children have less incentive to change out of their pajamas and get ready for school like they used to. They can now roll out of bed, move to the kitchen table to eat a little breakfast and then migrate to their workstation to start their first zoom session. Before you know it, it is lunchtime and their teeth have not yet been brushed. The evening oral hygiene routine has been altered for families as well. For some, bedtime might be later, making way for late night snacking after their teeth have already been brushed and flossed. For others, exhaustion from the long days at home can result in falling asleep without tooth brushing at all. Cavities can form rapidly when food and bacteria are left on the teeth during the night, since this is when our mouths are most dry and stagnant. To address these concerns…
- Encouraging your kids to brush as soon as they wake up rather than after breakfast. This way, it’s less likely to be forgotten.
- Brushing and flossing as one of the last activities before bed to ensure that your child’s teeth are clean while asleep.
- Making brushing a fun part of the routine so that no one will want to miss it!
The past year has been unlike any other so the alteration in regimen is to be expected, especially when it comes to children. Whether your child is experiencing one of the above routine changes or something else, we are here to help guide you through your child’s dental journey. Please feel free to contact us at 212-729-7915 or schedule an appointment online so we can chat more about your child’s oral health!