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North Hills Monthly

Make Sure Your Kids are Cool for School

Jul 01, 2017 10:26PM ● By Beth Gavaghan

Patient of Tina Reed Orthodontics

Summer may be time for fun, but it’s also a good time for parents to prepare kids for the coming school year. According to area pediatricians, it’s smart to schedule wellness visits and obtain any health forms necessary for camp, sports or school during this time of year. There is less chance of contracting germs at the doctor’s office than in cold and flu season, and rather than having to rush away during busier times, both parents and providers may have more time to have a thorough conversation about a child’s health care.

One concern looking ahead to the next school year regards changes to state-mandated immunizations. 

“We’ve had increased calls; it’s been a big issue,” said Dr. Pamela Schoemer of Children’s Community Pediatrics, which includes several offices in the North Hills. She said that most children will already have received the required doses. 

However, students who aren’t up-to-date on their immunizations may be prevented from attending school if they are not vaccinated within five days of the new semester. Of course, there are exceptions for religious and philosophical/moral beliefs, and in cases when a vaccine could adversely affect the health of the child. 

The new immunization requirements take effect on August 1. For more information, visit

Dr. Lucas Godinez of Kids Plus Pediatrics, which has a North Hills office in Seven Fields, said another top priority for parents is to establish good communication with their children, especially at the start of the school year when anxieties may run high. This is particularly true for kids just beginning school or changing schools.

“Talk about friends, art activities and games they’ll play,” Godinez said. “Mention that some of the things they do at home will be the same things that they do at school.”

For kids in third grade and up, Godinez said he tells parents to focus their talks on the friendships that their children are making inside and outside of school.

Parents also need to prepare kids for times that are not fun. “I tell parents to talk to their kids about bullying and about feeling safe,” Godinez said. He added that children need to be taught to be their own advocates. 

“If it doesn’t feel right, tell somebody,” he added.

Schoemer, who is also medical director of Children’s Community Pediatrics’ Healthy Habits for Life program, added that children should be encouraged to continue making good choices in the summer. That means healthy eating habits, regular bedtimes and limited screen time—TV, computer and phone.

“Kids should take the opportunity to spend time reading and writing,” Schoemer said. “Kids can write blogs about what they are doing in the summer.” 

Perfect Time for Orthodontia

Summer is a great time to start or finish orthodontic procedures, said Dr. Tina Reed of Tina Reed Orthodontics, which has two locations including one in the North Hills.

Whether kids are getting an expander, a retainer or braces, they have a few days to adjust to the new hardware and manage any discomfort. “There is an easier transition with orthodontics if you can rest and not have the daily stressors of schoolwork and a packed schedule,” she explained, adding that pain relievers and cold beverages such as fruit smoothies can help.

Connie Field, office manager at Butler-based Pawlowicz Dentistry and a registered dental hygienist specializing in orthodontia, agreed about summer timing. 

“It lets kids adjust without being in school,” she said, adding that there’s more flexibility for children to be seen in the dental office during the summer, particularly since adjustments may be necessary. 

Reed said that children with expanders should read out loud to overcome troubles enunciating words. As for kids with braces, they will need to learn how to clean the wires and brackets and floss. "It is easier during the summer to adapt to life with braces if you have time throughout the day to practice good dental hygiene," she said.

Additionally, parents with an orthodontia savings plan or insurance policy that changes or expires at the end of the year should try to schedule orthodontics during the summer. That way, they can avoid a last-minute scramble to start the process in time.

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends screening for orthodontics no later than age 7. For more, see

Summer Speech Therapy 

Summer is a particularly good time to focus on speech issues, said speech and language therapist Cherie River, owner of River Pediatric Therapies Inc. The business has several area locations including one in Cranberry Township.

“We found that we can get more work done in the summer and we can make it fun,” she said, adding that the practice incorporates outdoor activities such as writing with sidewalk chalk in their therapeutic plans. 

“Parents can find opportunities, such as car time, to work with their kids more easily in the summer when the destination is an outing and not a responsibility,” River said. “They can use that time to play fun games. The whole family can join in and find objects out the window that begin with a certain sound. The key is to not identify the goal to the child. It should be a natural give-and-take.”

Common speech-related issues include late talkers and articulation errors, especially th, s, sh and r sounds.

Brooke Dorsch, a speech and language therapist at Pediatric Therapy Professionals, specializes in intervention for children up to three years old. She said children should be screened for speech delays beginning at about 18 months of age. 

Both River’s and Dorsch’s practices screen for speech and occupational and physical therapy concerns. For school-age children, speech delays can affect reading acquisition and social skills.

“Kids are asked an astronomical amount of questions in a day. If they have a hard time answering those questions, it can affect them socially,” Dorsch said. “They can misunderstand pop culture references or social cues.”

River said the best assessment comes from people who interact with children in day-to-day situations. “Watch how your kid communicates with their friends. When your child meets another child they’ve never met, do they approach the kid and ask to play? Do they respond verbally or shy away? Does the other kid understand them?” River said.

“The most important thing is to call a speech therapist if you have a question about screening, as opposed to waiting,” she added.

For information on speech and developmental milestones, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at

Clearer Skin for School

A good skin care regimen and early treatment can help teens and college students start school with clear or relatively clear skin.

Mary Bickley, owner of Clearskin Acne Solutions in Cranberry Township, explained that acne starts under the skin and takes about three months until it erupts on the skin surface. So for students, treating skin over the summer is essential. 

“Acne is the elephant in the room,” said Bickley, explaining that while everyone sees it, no one wants to talk about it. A licensed esthetician, she often sees clients who have not had success with over-the-counter acne products and are looking for an alternative to prescription medicines such as antibiotics or Accutane. 

“I’ve cleared about 700 people’s skin in the last five or six years,” she said, adding that the process takes about three months.

Deanna Clouse of Sewickley said that her two daughters, ages 15 and 21, have been Clearskin clients for the last several months and are noticing success.

Bickley’s process, designed by the late dermatologist James Fulton (co-inventor of Retin-A), involves a combination of in-office treatments such as steam and manual extractions to remove blackheads, and at-home skin care. She tailors the treatment plan to the individual. Additionally, she advises clients to avoid certain foods, such as whey and soy protein, and products with pore-clogging ingredients.

The American Academy of Dermatology also offers tips to prevent and treat acne, such as washing skin twice a day and after sweating, which is especially important during the summer months. For information, visit .

Pace Yourself

The key word is “balance.” Parents can only accomplish so much in the summer. You need to decide what goals will best help your children prepare for school while continuing to have fun.