Making the Connection

Making the Connection Between Dental Health & Learning

The new school year is just a few weeks away. Whether your children will be participating in remote learning, homeschool or some form of traditional classroom studies, the new school year is a reminder to parents that it’s time to check in on their child’s health. That includes scheduling a dental check-up.

Children who are ready for school are also ready to learn how to take care of their own teeth. Creating solid dental habits that include brushing and flossing can go a long way towards good dental health. Still, home care alone is no substitute for dental exams every 6 months. Oral health problems can sneak up very quietly; these visits can catch any issues before they get more serious. While the connection may not be obvious, good oral hygiene can actually improve your child’s overall health.

There are several chronic diseases known to affect children. The National Institutes of Health estimates up to 30% of children have some sort of chronic health condition. Of the most prevalent, including asthma, diabetes, and obesity, dental caries (cavities) is the most common. One study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 42% of children aged 6 to 19 years had cavities in permanent teeth. Left untreated, cavities are not only painful, they can lead to premature tooth loss.

Tooth loss at any age can be detrimental. But in children, early tooth loss due to dental decay can result in impaired speech development, reduced self-esteem, inability to concentrate in school, and even failure to thrive. Often, children are not able to talk about where or why they are in pain, so teachers don’t recognize that a child who is not doing well may actually be having a problem focusing because of a toothache. Children who are sensitive about a missing tooth tend to withdraw from normal activities.

When a child has dental problems, they make food choices based on what’s comfortable to chew. Having untreated cavities definitely causes enough discomfort that mealtime is uncomfortable. The pain of cavities leads to diets limited in the foods that young bodies need to grow. Which then leads to hunger and malnourishment.

All of this has an effect on overall academic performance.

Data from the 2016-2017 National Survey of Children’s Health found that academic performance declined when a child suffered from poor oral health. Even having just one dental problem was found to cause disruptions in a child’s success in the classroom, including missing three to six days of school. Children from families with low incomes had nearly 12 times as many occurrences of missed school and restricted activities due to poor dental health.

Doreen Eyler, RDH-ECP IIIGetting a child to the dentist can be difficult for many parents and caregivers. Some parents just don’t know when to start dental exams; others lack insurance or the means to cover the expense. Some parents have had negative experiences of their own with a dental provider and don’t want to subject their children to the potential for the same treatment. To help change the perceptions, community programs have been developed to provide dental screenings and cleanings at school. Doreen Eyler, Manager of Dental Outreach at GraceMed, says “the program helps parents because they don’t have to take time off work or take their child out of school. It also provides a valuable opportunity for children to learn early that dental health is important.” You can learn more about the GraceMed Dental Outreach program here.

Having healthy teeth helps children eat better, speak better and even sleep better. They have more confidence and are more attentive in the classroom. Having a strong dental routine and regular dental exams is essential to help children get their best start in life.