Teachers have one of the busiest jobs, but they can also be one of the best examples for students—not only in academics, but also in lifestyle and health choices. Here are some things you can do as an educator to help your students see the important of making the best choices for their dental health.
Provide healthy incentives for kids.
Many teachers use candy or other sweets as incentives for good behaviors or good grades. Instead of providing sweets for kids who won't have the opportunity to brush their teeth until after school at the earliest, offer alternatives instead. You might try
- Allowing an extra 5 minutes of free play time for good behavior
- Giving stickers or smiley faces
- Using a class chart to work toward a large activity that the whole class will enjoy
- Writing a nice note
- Having everybody in the class give the student a round of applause
Celebrating holidays without junk food.
The classroom is often the site of celebration for such holidays as Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Thanksgiving. Usually, this means a party with sugary foods. Instead of following a traditional structure where student enjoy cake and candy, try a series of activities that go with the season. For example, instead of having candy during the Halloween activity, have students cut out spiders or ghosts from paper and hang them in the classroom. Play active games. If you must have food, opt for healthy Halloween options, like mandarin oranges peeled to look like pumpkins.
For other candy-based holidays, encourage parents to leave treats at home for students to enjoy instead of sending plenty to school to share with everyone. If parents want to be involved in holiday festivities, encourage them to plan a craft or bring a vegetable tray instead of bringing sweets.
Tweak your supply list.
Consider adding a toothbrush and floss to your school-supply list. Students can keep a toothbrush at school. To keep students from losing the brush, you can keep them all in labeled individual baggies in a drawer. That way if a parent does bring cupcakes or another treat for the students to enjoy, you can encourage them to brush their teeth after eating. Teach tooth-brushing songs to help students get engaged.
Have a classroom snack policy.
You can't police everything that your students bring to class, but you can implement a "no sugar" snack policy for snack times. In your letter home at the beginning of the year, explain your concern for dental health and how many students miss class time because of dental needs (cavities and so forth). Students may bring what they want to eat for lunch, but snacks consumed in class should be low or no sugar. If you teach older students, you can prohibit junk food in the classroom, allowing only for healthful snacks or food like sandwiches. For drinks, only allow water bottles during class time and prohibit sodas or juice.
Be an example of tooth health.
Students are always on the lookout for hypocrisy, so be sure that you are able to be a good example. You might have a science unit on teeth, explaining to students why brushing and flossing can be so important to them. If a student offers you a candy, you can refuse and say, "I try not to eat much candy because it's not good for my teeth." Small examples may not seem like a big deal to you as a teacher, but they can be very impactful for young students.
Teachers can do plenty to help students develop good oral hygiene during school. For more advice on how schools can get involved in helping students keep their teeth healthy, contact a dentist in your area, such as one at Milner Dentistry.