For the past few years in February (Dental Health Awareness Month) my staff and I head out to local schools to speak to first graders about dental health. We go over brushing and flossing, review what goes on at a typical dental office appointment, talk about how we prevent the spread of germs, and discuss healthy eating. After our little presentation we always leave time for questions and discussion, and this is when the fun really begins.

I’m always happy to hear at least one story of a father or grandfather suggesting to a child that tying a string to a loose tooth and the other end to a door so he can slam it shut is a great way to pull a tooth. A timeless classic.

One little girl lost a tooth when she tripped and fell in the street. She started the story by saying “my dad told me to run out into traffic…” Everyone seems to know that dentists recommend brushing for 2 minutes at a time, but then one kid will tell you that he brushes for 3 minutes, and then you will soon find that other children brush for 4, 5, 10, even 30 minutes.

And a word of caution to parents: your children are watching you. If you have a missing tooth or sometimes don’t brush your teeth in the morning your child is more than happy to share this information with your dentist.

All joking aside, I really have to be on my toes during the question and answer part of the presentation. I think that all I knew about dental hygiene in 1st grade was how to trick my parents into believing that I actually had brushed my teeth at night and that I wanted more than anything to find in my own mouth one of the Cavity Creeps I would see attacking teeth during a Crest Toothpaste commercial.

First graders today ask very intuitive questions about gingivitis, orthodontics, the ingredients of mouth rinse, the type of schooling it takes to be a dentist. They are very aware that sugars cause cavities. Many students even knew when we discussed fruit juice as a healthy snack that many juices contain high amounts of sugar. Pretty impressive.

Parents and educators of the North Hills and North Boroughs should pat yourselves on the back. Your first graders are on the ball. It is refreshing to see young children with a strong awareness of good hygiene and healthy eating habits. And if you pick up a snack and are wondering if it is good for your teeth . . . well, look for a first grader. They can probably help you.

By Dr. Jonathan Kolher, D.D.S.