Say Cheese: Picture-Perfect Smiles for Back-to-School

From gap-toothed grins to brace-covered smiles, children’s teeth change dramatically throughout their school years. With your kids heading back to school, now is the perfect time to get back to basics with brushing so you can prepare those smiles for picture day — and keep their smiles healthy through every stage.

First, here are 6 elementary brushing mistakes that can impact dental health at any age:

  1. Using your toothbrush for too long:
    Dentists recommend changing your toothbrush or replacing your brush head every 3 to 4 months, or sooner if the bristles are frayed. Add a new toothbrush or a new brush head to your back-to-school shopping list!
  2. Not brushing long enough:
    The American Dental Association has this sage advice: brush with a fluoride toothpaste for two minutes, two times a day.
  3. Skipping the dental floss:
    Plaque builds up between your teeth; flossing removes the plaque brushing can’t reach. Using a water flosser like Waterpik® is a fast, easy and effective way to help remove plaque and food debris, especially for people with braces, implants and dental work.
  4. Not brushing the tongue:
    Bacteria builds up on your tongue, but gently brushing or scraping your tongue when you brush can keep it in check.
  5. Using an incorrect brushing technique:
    Brushing back and forth? Or too hard? Adjusting your technique can remove more plaque with less damage to your enamel.
  6. Not going to the dentist:
    Missing a professional cleaning and checkup at the dentist can leave unknown problems unchecked. Schedule a dental appointment as part of your back-to-school prep!

While these A+ tips work for any age, here are a few ways you can help make their back-to-school smiles look their best, by grade level:

Pre-K to 3rd Grade:

  • Sound the Alarm: Set an egg or sand timer for 2 minutes to keep your little ones brushing longer.
  • Personalize It: Let your kid choose the character brush they love to help make brushing more fun.
  • Keep an Eye Out: For children 3 to 6 years old, just squeeze out a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, then supervise their brushing (and make sure they know not to swallow the toothpaste!)

4th to 8th Grade:

  • Stay with Them: Even though they’re growing up, stick around to make sure they’re brushing long enough, and correctly. With their permanent teeth growing in, proper brushing can help protect them for years to come.
  • Brush Those Braces: Braces can make it tough to remove plaque. Instruct your child to rinse their mouth out with water first, then hold the brush to their gums at a 45-degree angle, being sure to brush between the wiring and the teeth. A battery-operated toothbrush can make it easier to brush around brackets, wires and other hardware.
  • Clean Those Retainers: Remind your kids to brush their removable retainer every night, using a pea-sized drop of toothpaste to scrub away built-up plaque. To help keep it fresh, mix two teaspoons of baking soda in a small bowl of cool water, then soak the retainer in it for up to five minutes.

9th to 12th Grade:

  • Sport a Mouthguard: Certain sports and activities can put your child at risk of broken or lost teeth. When playing, encourage them to wear a mouthguard to cover their top teeth, which are more at risk, and help protect soft tissue like on the lips and tongue.
  • Limit Sweets and Soda: Eating junk food and drinking carbonated or sweet drinks can impact a teen’s oral health because the high sugar content can breed bacteria and cause cavities. In fact, 20% of teens between 12 and 19 have untreated tooth decay. Have healthy snacks like cut veggies on hand and encourage them to swap sodas for water.
  • Brighten Up Smiles: As kids mature, they become more focused on looking their best — and that includes wanting a whiter, brighter smile. Here are 3 tips to help:
    • Avoid stainmakers like nicotine, coffee and soda
    • Use a straw when drinking beverages that do stain if they can’t be avoided
    • Switch to a toothpaste with baking soda for a gentle way to remove surface stains and help safely whiten teeth.


  • Send Them Off Prepared: Make sure they have the oral care essentials at the start of every semester and return home for break with toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash and fluoride rinses.
  • Get Wise About Wisdoms: Your child’s third molars — or wisdom teeth — usually appear between the ages of 17 and 21. If they grow in incorrectly or become impacted, they can cause problems, so talk to your child about any pain or discomfort they may have, and monitor for signs that could signal the need to have them removed.
  • Make Those Appointments: Schedule their 6-month cleanings and exams for winter and summer breaks well in advance to ensure they can squeeze in their dental appointments at the recommended intervals.

Teaching kids how to brush right from the start — and encouraging good oral care habits at every age — can make a big difference in building stronger, healthier teeth and gums for a lifetime!


The Ugly Truth About Your Toothbrush

Take Two Minutes to Brush

Still Not Flossing? More Reasons Why You Should

Why You Should Be Brushing Your Tongue

Are You Brushing Your Teeth the Wrong Way?

Baby Teeth — ADA

You’ll Need These 7 Expert Tips for Brushing Your Teeth with Braces

Get the Best Way to Clean Your Retainer

When Should You Wear a Mouthguard?

Oral and Dental Health — National Center for Health Statistics

Dental Caries in Adolescents

Wisdom Teeth — ADA

Tips to freshen things up

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