Kindergartners need teeth, eyes checked for school
Kids and parents need to think about more than new shoes, lunch boxes and backpacks for their first school year. Illinois kids entering kindergarten need to have their teeth and eyes checked out, too, and it’s not too late to make an appointment.
The state law for eye exams changed Jan. 1, and it now requires kids entering kindergarten, instead of first grade, to be examined. Dental exams were already required for children entering kindergarten, second and sixth grades.
Proof of an eye exam must be submitted to both private and public schools before Oct. 15, and an exam completed within one year before the child entering school is valid, said Linda Niemiec, vice president for development at Crusader Clinic in Rockford. The clinic offers both vision and dental exams for kids entering school.
Special charts for kids
Can’t read? No problem for kids to be tested.
While eye exams only take between 15 and 30 minutes, several tests are packed into that time. Doctors check eye pressure for glaucoma, and test vision, color and depth perception, said Michelle Bruning, a manager at Sears Optical in Rockford.
If kids going in for eye exams haven’t yet mastered the alphabet, it’s no problem, she said, since letters can be swapped out for special charts with shapes and pictures.
For young kids, optometrists don’t ask which click of the machine is clearer. Instead, doctors work with numbers, shapes and symbols to check vision, muscle balance, eye focus, eye health and the optic nerve, said Dr. Amanda Stott, an optometrist with Heartland Vision and the Malik Eye Institute.
Doctors now recommend that babies have an eye exam when they’re only 6 months
old, Stott said.
She recommends that kids without a prescription be tested every two years, and kids with glasses be tested every year.
Making the dentist fun
Open wide, rinse and spit for the first time.
Dental exams also only take between 15 and 30 minutes. A big part of the exam is filling out paperwork, which includes parent information, the date of the last teeth cleaning, whether the child has any cavities or missing teeth, or if any teeth need restoring. Back-to-school exams don’t require X-rays, said Dr. Cyrus Oates, of Dental Works.
To keep teeth healthy, Oates recommends that children, like adults, brush their teeth at least in the morning and again at night. And even children need to floss, he said.
Kids should start brushing as soon as they have teeth, Oates said. Parents can clean infants’ teeth by wrapping a wash cloth around their finger and cleaning the tooth — that will teach cleaning habits at an early age.
Oates knows dentists get a bad rap, but that’s avoidable, too, he said.
Kids see their parents wait until there’s a major problem, like a toothache, until they go to the dentist. The key is preventive care, Oates said, and try to have fun.
If kids come along with parents to the dentist, the dentist or hygienist will likely help kids count their teeth in a mirror, move in a dentist chair and maybe even play with an air or water syringe.
“When you just come in when you have five or six cavities, nobody’s going to want to run back to the dentist,” he said. “Kids need positive reinforcement.”
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Kids not yet ready for school should avoid juice and other sugary drinks at night, said Dr. Cyrus Oates of Dental Works in Rockford.
For kids returning to school, be careful to not drink too much soda or have too much candy, Oates said, and remember to brush at least twice a day.
Acid and sugar cause cavities. One 12-oz. can of Coke has nine teaspoons of sugar with an acid level of 2.63. The higher the acid level, the worse it is for your teeth. He recommends drinking diet soft drinks, although they still have high acidity levels.
Use a straw when drinking pop. With a straw, the pop hits the hard palate of the mouth and is then swallowed, instead of bathing the teeth first. Using a straw and drinking the pop — not sipping it — is one way to avoid a 15-minute sugary bath, Oates said.
After the pop is gone, Oates recommends swishing water around and spitting it out.
For cavity-prone kids, Oates recommends a dental sealant. This composite material is placed on the posterior teeth to fill in cracks and crevices to make it less likely for cavities to form there.
Kids should have their eyes checked every year, said Michelle Bruning, manager at Sears Optical in Rockford. But parents should pay attention to warning signs that their child’s vision might be suffering.
If your child often complains of a headache, that may be a sign of poor vision and they should have an eye exam, she said. Don’t forget to check a child’s vision after a head injury, too, she said.