(A version of this blog post first published in Future of Personal Health in March, 2023.)
Parents can do many things to help their children grow to be successful adults. Some choose only the very best in nutrition. Others pay for private education or encourage their kids to play sports. Still others might focus on a can-do attitude and habits linked with success.
But there is one simple plan for success that’s hiding under our noses:
a healthy smile.
You may only think about your child’s dental hygiene habits when you catch a whiff of their bad breath. There’s a better reason to be concerned about your child’s smile. It can have a big impact on their future.
We can’t promise that a perfect smile will lead to perfect grades. One thing is for sure: untreated cavities can make it hard for your child to do well at school.
You may have grown up believing that tooth decay is not a big deal. Or you may not worry about cavities in baby teeth because they will be replaced by adult teeth. Even though cavities are common, they’re not normal. Tooth decay is an infection and should be taken seriously.
If ignored, a cavity will grow to reach the nerves inside the tooth. Pain from tooth decay makes it hard to sleep at night and focus during class. Dental disease can lead to poor attendance, less learning and lower grades.
The infection can also spread to the adult tooth under it! Bacteria from tooth decay can spread to other parts of the body and cause serious infections in the brain and heart.
The good news is your child can keep their mouth healthy by brushing for two minutes, two times every day.
Kids whose cavities show when they smile or talk are targets for teasing or bullying. As a result, they’re less likely to speak in class or share their smile with others. This can make your child feel bad about themselves well into adulthood.
You can help your child prevent cavities for the rest of their life! Help your child brush and floss every day. Take them for dental check-ups every six months.
Studies show that kids can smile up to 400 times per day! This helps them make friends and learn the social skills they need to do well in the future.
It’s important to take care of your child’s teeth when they are young because those are the teeth they will have for the rest of your life. Adults who don’t smile can be seen as insecure, unfriendly, and less intelligent. This can make it hard to form relationships and get a good-paying job.
Feeling happy makes us smile but smiling can also make us feel happy! Brain imaging studies1 show that smiling (even a fake smile) reduces stress and improves mood.
Poor oral health habits can set off a chain reaction of poor overall health! The germs that cause gum disease can cause inflammation that makes depression and anxiety worse. It’s hard to smile when you’re sad or worried!
Poor oral health can also lead to:
• high blood sugar levels in diabetics
• infections in the sinuses and jaw
• a higher risk of heart disease and stroke
• poor brain and gut health
• low birth weight and early delivery in pregnancy
A healthy smile can help your child:
• grow healthier bodies and minds
• do better at school
• feel better about themselves
• learn the good behaviors they need to succeed in life!
Your public health department can help you find a dentist. Or visit our resources page for tools to find dental care providers near you.
1. Marmolejo-Ramos, F., Murata, A., et. al. (2020). Your face and moves seem happier when I smile. Facial action influences the perception of emotional faces and biological motion stimuli. Experimental Psychology, 67 (1), 14-22.