When your little ones were at home with you every day, all summer long, it was relatively easy to keep a close eye on their dental well-being by monitoring their snacking habits, activities, and dental hygiene. During the hustle and bustle of the school year, however, you may find yourself wondering and worrying about the state of your child's mouth. Here are some strategies that can help you ensure a higher standard of dental health for the busy students in your life.

Maintain Those Healthy Eating Habits

Watching what your kids eat when they're hanging around the house is challenging enough, but how do you control their eating habits when they're in school? The most important thing to remember is that taste preferences begin at home. If you feed your kids tooth-friendly snacks such as cheese and vegetables instead of candy and cookies, those eating preferences may carry through the school year -- especially if pack them a healthy lunch full of healthy treats you know they already love.

It's a sad fact of life that many schools tempt students into dental disrepair by stocking vending machines with sugary sodas and snacks. But you can play a role in dealing with this challenge as well. Parents have every right to push for healthier lunch and snack options to their local school boards and school districts. Meanwhile your pediatric dentist will be more than happy to educate your kids on the importance of eating for dental and overall health, no matter what their schoolmates are purchasing from the candy machines.

Get Your Student Athlete a Mouth Guard

Kids love sports of all kinds, but this kind of fun can put dental health at serious risk. In fact, it's estimated that one-third of all dental injuries occur in connection with sporting activities. If your child is playing soccer, football, or some other contact sport on a school team, it's time to schedule a visit to the family dentist to get a custom-fitted mouth guard. These professional-quality mouth guards provide much more protection than the standard "boil and bite" or non-modifiable products you find at a sporting goods store.

What if your child resists wearing something as "un-cool" as a mouth guard during sports? You might point to all the star athletes, many of whom are children's role models, who routinely wear these devices to protect their teeth when they play. You might also remind your child that having no front teeth isn't exactly a cool look either.

Keep Up the Dental Checkups

Even if you can't keep a watchful eye on your kids' dental habits 24 hours a day during the school year, your pediatric dentist can catch and correct problems through the traditional twice-yearly dental exams. Both you and your child may find it hard to fit these appointments into your busy lives, but it's absolutely critical to diagnose and treat any tartar buildup, tooth decay, tooth damage, or problems with permanent tooth eruption as early as possible. (In some states, a dental exam before each new school year is even a legal requirement.) It's also highly important to establish dental exams as a normal and necessary routine. The habits your children follow now will hopefully follow them into adulthood.

You can make these appointments easier to schedule by working them into vacation periods -- one during the summer months, and the other sometime in December. Just keep in mind that you'll want to book such appointments well in advance, since other clever parents probably have the same idea. Weekend and after-school appointments are another option.

The academic year presents all kinds of challenges for both parents and schoolchildren, so don't add dental problems to your back-to-school worry list. Talk to a dentist at an office like Hoffman & Karl Dental Associates, PLLC about these and other ideas to help your kids keep a full set of healthy teeth through graduation and beyond!