As our children prepare for back to school, routines are going to change and new schedules are going to form. The demands of homework, extracurricular activities, and sports often cause children and teens to go off their daily routines. Meal times, sleeping schedules, and regular hygiene habits alter, of which, all three factors are extremely important for proper health and mental development.

The American Dental Association (ADA) emphasizes that the foods we eat not only impact our general health, but also affect our teeth and gums. If nutrition is poor, the first signs often show in the mouth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture states a balanced and healthy diet should include fruits and vegetables, grains, diary and protein. Proper meals for students help gain energy to maximize mental and physical performance. The types and frequency of snacks eaten affect the health of the teeth. Sugary snacks eaten too frequently throughout the day increase the risk for dental decay.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends nine hours sleep nightly for children and teens to obtain optimal sleep. The quality and amount of sleep affects the brain development in growing children and the behavioral and biological well-being of teens. Proper sleep also helps children and teenagers effectively concentrate in the classroom. The mouth can show signs of sleep disorders in children. For example, dry mouth may indicate mouth breathing or nasal obstruction during sleeping. Dry mouth causes a higher risk for decay in children.

When teens stay awake late to do homework, they may miss their nightly routine to brush and floss their teeth. Also, studies have found that stress induced by class work often causes the acidity level in the student’s mouth to increase. Higher acidity levels in the mouth increases risks of decay. The ADA recommends brushing and flossing a minimum of twice a day. Children and teenagers are encouraged to keep their dental hygiene routines. This may be done by picking a certain time of night to brush and floss, regardless of bedtime.

With the hustle and bustle of back to school, parents have the challenge of keeping their children’s routines in nutrition, sleep, and dental hygiene. Children are encouraged to be reminded of the importance of these factors in maintaining strong mental and overall health.

• Dr. Rashmi (Rush) Bhatnagar, DMD, MPH, can be contacted at (480) 598-5900 or visit

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