Back to school – top oral health tips for a healthy school term

Uniforms have been freshly laundered, new pencil cases carefully chosen, and parents up and down the country are collectively breathing a small sigh of relief – the children are going back to school!

Amongst the bustle of organising children for the new school term, thinking about their oral health needs may not be at the top of parents’ lists.  However, recent insights from our Consumer Oral Health Survey* have revealed that one in ten (10%) British children have missed a full day of school to receive treatment due to tooth decay, according to parents surveyed.  

Our Head Dental Officer, Dr Catherine Rutland, offers her top oral health tips to help families plan for a tooth-happy school term.

Brush as soon as they wake up

If teeth brushing is a frequent battle in your household, you’re not alone. 64% of parents say that getting their child to brush their teeth for the recommended two minutes, twice a day, is their biggest challenge. In addition, more than one in five (21%) children brush just once a day or less.

“Getting children ready for school and out the door on time can be a challenge,” says Catherine. “This often means that the morning brush is rushed or even skipped altogether. To help ensure a proper brush in the morning, try getting children to brush their teeth as soon as they wake up. It doesn’t matter if you brush before breakfast - in fact, it can help to protect their teeth. Tooth enamel is softer and more vulnerable after eating and drinking sugary and acidic things, and brushing can wear the enamel away. Brushing before breakfast can help to ensure you get the full two minutes in, as well as protecting their tooth enamel.”

Tooth-friendly school lunch boxes and snacks

Preparing tooth-friendly school lunchboxes could also prove tricky for parents this school year, with almost a quarter (24%) saying they find it challenging to ensure their children have tooth-friendly meals. Furthermore, 37% struggle to find tooth-friendly snacks, and finding suitable drinks is problematic for 41% of parents. Biscuits (28%), sweets/chocolates (16%), and fizzy drinks (7%) feature in the lunchboxes of those surveyed.

“It can be a minefield for parents to know what is and isn’t healthy, especially as there are now lots of products aimed specifically for children’s lunchboxes,” says Catherine. “Although convenient, these products can be misleading as they often play on the fact that they’re free from additives, colours and artificial flavours, but they’re often packed with hidden sugar.

“Instead, stick to things that you’ve made yourself so that you know exactly what’s in them. Sandwiches and wraps made with savoury fillings such as cheese, tuna, ham and chicken are tooth-friendly and great sources of protein. Cheese, breadsticks, savoury rice cakes, hummus, and raw vegetables such as cucumber and carrot sticks make great snacks. Opt for low sugar yoghurts and fresh fruit if they want something sweeter. Avoid sticky dried fruit and fruit-based products as they contain a lot of natural sugar and cling to teeth for a long time, increasing the risk of tooth decay. Swap fizzy and sugary drinks for water or milk.”

Regular dental visits

Catherine recommends that children visit the dentist every six months.

“Regular visits help children get into a good oral health routine, as well as ensuring that any problems or early signs of tooth decay are detected at an early stage,” says Catherine. “Dentists can also advise parents on the best products for children’s teeth and provide some fun brushing techniques too. If your child hasn’t had a check-up recently, book something in soon so that they’re dentally fit and healthy for the new school term.”

Learning about good oral health

According to our survey, nearly half of parents (48%) say they would like their child to receive oral health education in school from dental professionals, and 35% said they’d like oral health education from teachers.

“Many schools provide opportunities to learn about oral health, and sometimes local dental practices will visit to provide oral health education,” says Catherine. “While this is an important additional source of learning, we know that good oral health habits are formed at a very young age from when a child’s first tooth appears. If families can instil good habits from an early age it can have a significant positive impact on that child’s oral health for life.

“Start brushing a child’s teeth when their first tooth appears, which is usually around six months of age. It’s also a good idea to take them to the dentist around this time, and certainly before they turn one years old. This helps to get them used to the sights, sounds and smells of a dental practice and get used to seeing the practice team.

“Keep brushing their teeth for two minutes, twice a day, and encourage toddlers to take an interest in brushing.”

You can find further brushing tips for toddlers in our blog here: and for older children here:

Simplyhealth Consumer Oral Health Survey 2019. Online survey of 5083 adults conducted by Dynata (formally Research Now SSI) on behalf of Simplyhealth, undertaken 24 January – 5 February 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (18+).
Children’s section of the survey: Simplyhealth Consumer Oral Health Survey 2019. Online survey of 1014 adult parents conducted by Dynata (formally Research Now SSI) on behalf of Simplyhealth, undertaken 24 January – 31 January 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (18+).

Lady tying boys shoelace

Ask children to brush their teeth when they wake up to save the rush when heading out of the door.