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How can we prevent cavities and sore gums?

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HealthWiki > Where There Is No Dentist > Chapter 4: School Activities for Learning about Teeth and Gums > How can we prevent cavities and sore gums?

Eating good food and carefully cleaning the teeth prevent both tooth decay and gum disease.

Food from your own garden and local food from the market is best. These foods are good for your body, your teeth, and your gums.

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Vegetables, especially those with dark green leaves. Peas and beans, like green beans, soybeans, winged beans, and mung beans. Oil, from palm nut kernels, ground nuts, and coconut.
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Fruits, like banana, guava, oranges, and papaya. Fish, meat and eggs. Clean water, coconut water, and milk are best to drink.
Sugar in candy, jam, and other foods makes teeth soft and gums sore.

Soft foods and sweet foods from the store are not good for you. Soft foods stick to your teeth easily. They can work longer to cause cavities and infected gums. Sweet foods have mostly sugar in them, and it is ‘factory sugar,’ not the ‘natural sugar’ that is in the foods in the pictures above.

This kind of sugar is quick to mix with germs and make acid. Remember: natural sugar makes acid slowly; factory sugar makes acid quickly.

Children who eat a lot of sugar lose their appetite for other foods — the foods that help them grow strong, stay healthy, and learn well in school.

Store foods are also expensive. You can usually get better food, and more of it, for the same money in your garden or in the market.

Cleaning your teeth carefully every day is another important way to take care of both teeth and gums. However, cleaning teeth is like building a house. To do a good job, you need to work slowly and carefully. Once a day is enough, if you clean your teeth well every day.

a homemade toothbrush.

Buy a brush from the store, or make one yourself. But be sure the cleaning end of the brush is soft so that it won’t hurt the gums.

a brush from the store.

Use your brush to clean all the teeth, especially the back ones with the grooves. Back teeth are harder to reach and so it is easy not to clean them well enough. Cavities start from sweet food and germs left together inside the grooves.

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1. Scrub the inside, outside, and top of each tooth.
2. Push the hairs of your brush between two teeth. Sweep the food away.
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2. Wash your mouth with water, to remove any loose bits of food.

Small children are not able to clean their teeth carefully enough by themselves. They need help. Older children can care for younger brothers and sisters at home.


One of the best ways to teach is by example.

a man speaking while holding a plant and some fish.
And so at home we put both dried fish and green leaves into the soup. My children like it very much. You
will too!

Students will believe what their teacher says if they know he eats good food and cleans his teeth.

The reverse is also true. Learning is harder when students know that their teacher does not do those things himself.

Students can be a good example for their community, too. They can:

  • draw pictures of foods that are both good and bad for teeth. Use them to make posters and flannel-board stories.
  • make puppets and plays to discuss ways people can become healthier.

There are some other ways to make learning meaningful and fun.

  1. Make a garden at school. Divide the ground so that each class has its own space to plant a garden. Use some of the garden’s food to prepare a meal for the students, perhaps once a week. Students can bring food from home if there is not enough ready in the garden.
  2. Organize a school lunch program. Each day the students can bring some good food from home. Cooked yams, or maize, nuts, fruit and fresh vegetables are all good. Often the students will exchange food and talk about the many different foods that can be grown locally.
  3. Find the best way to clean teeth. Divide the class into groups. They will learn more easily in a small group of 4 to 8 students. Give all the students something to eat that is sweet, sticky and dark in color, such as sweet chocolate biscuits. Ask the students to look in each other’s mouth, to see how easily the biscuit sticks to the teeth. One or two of the students in a group can then try to clean away the pieces of biscuit, using a different method.
    illustration of the activity described above.
    each person
    eat a sweet
    sticky food
    and rinse
    ...eat a
    fibrous food

    When they are finished, the students can look at the teeth to decide if they are clean or not. Put your findings on a chart and talk about what you have learned.

    a chart showing that eating a carrot or rinsing works better than doing nothing but not as well as brushing.

  4. Make cleaning part of a daily health activity. Older students can look after younger students. They can first check their hair for lice, then sores for infection, and teeth for old food or germs. (See an activity about the coating of germs on the teeth.) One partner can point out to the other where washing and brushing can be done better.
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Cleanliness can begin at school

At school, students can wash their hands before lunch and brush their teeth with flouride toothpaste afterward. Encourage them to keep a piece of soap and a toothbrush or brushstick. A program in the Philippines called Fit for School combines this with deworming 2 times a year to keep children healthier, develop good habits, and keep them in school.

holders made from bamboo for a store-bought and a homemade toothbrush.
A piece of bamboo can hold a brush nicely. Make two holes near the top for some grass string, to hang the bamboo brush holder.
the toothbrush holder hanging under a desk.
The student can keep the brush at her own desk...
...or on a rack at the back of the room.
Let each student look after her own soap and brush.
a table holding bars of soap, with a board attached for hanging toothbrushes.

Have the students score each other’s progress. Do not make it hard to judge, or they will not do it. In the example below, the tooth is either clean or not clean.

a person's mouth, showing 2 clean and 2 dirty teeth.


Pick 4 teeth, a back tooth and a front tooth--two on top and two on the bottom.

Use the same 4 teeth for each person. Look for food on each tooth near the gums.

A clean tooth = 2 points. A dirty tooth = 0 points. Total possible points each day is 4 teeth x 2 = 8 points.

In this example the score is:

Tooth 1 = 2 points
Tooth 2 = 0 points
Tooth 3 = 0 points
Tooth 4 = 2 points


Total = 4 points

Have each student put his daily score on a chart. At the end of the month he can see how much he has improved.

clean teeth scores for one student for a month.

This page was updated:19 Feb 2018