Children’s Oral Health Exams Are Essential to Their School Career

6 children, boys and girls, standing outside school, with backpacks on

 

California is one of several states that legally requires a yearly dental screening for school-aged children. Wondering why? Dr. Kami Hoss, dental expert, dentist, and dad can explain. 

How Does Oral Health Impact Children?

As Dr. Hoss discussed in his interview with KTLA 5 News, a child’s oral health can impact their education in profound ways. Dental problems can cause issues you might not expect like more absences from school and impacting kids’ performance in school. 

In the interview, Dr. Hoss quoted a study conducted by dentists and researchers which showed students with poor oral health were three times more likely to miss school due to dental pain than their counterparts. This same study found that absences caused by dental pain were associated with poorer school performance, although absences for routine care were not. Another study showed that parents missed an average of 2.5 days of work or school because of their children’s dental problems. In addition, this study demonstrated that children without accessible dental care were four times more likely to have below average GPAs. 

Clearly, this is a significant issue, but how does dental health impact academic performance? Believe it or not, there are several different reasons that dental problems can really affect the way kids perform at school. 

  • Kids with dental problems may struggle to eat a healthy diet. Dental problems and pain, like a toothache, can make it difficult to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. This can impact a child’s nutrition, particularly if it’s an ongoing problem. Insufficient nutrition makes it hard for children to concentrate in class, which may lead to academic struggles and lower performance over time.
  • Dental problems can impact the quality of children’s sleep. The pain or anxiety from dental problems or dental pain can keep kids up at night. This means they are less alert in class and may have difficulty maintaining their behavior.
  • Dental pain can make it difficult to pay attention and focus. Kids experiencing dental pain may also struggle to pay attention in class. If they’re distracted by a toothache, for example, they may have difficulty sustaining the kind of focus necessary for learning.
  • Kids with dental problems may get bullied. One of the more common physical features kids are bullied about is their teeth. The more obvious dental problems a child has, the more likely they are to get bullied for them.  

Unfortunately, at least 51 million hours of school are estimated to be missed annually in the United States due to dental problems, and even those numbers are believed to be underestimated. Between the physical effects of dental and oral health problems and the behavioral and social impacts of poor oral health, the quality of a kid’s school experience really can be dependent on a healthy mouth.

With the clear connections between poor oral health, school absences, and poor academic performance, it makes sense that many states require yearly dental screenings. But for many kids, and particularly kids with poor oral health, going to the dentist can feel scary. So how can you make dental visits feel a little less intimidating? 

How to Make Oral Health Maintenance Positive for Kids

Because going to the dentist can cause anxiety for some kids, it’s helpful to make the experience as fun as possible for your kids. Start by making sure you see a dentist that specializes in pediatric or family dentistry so that you’re sure they’re equipped to handle any anxiety your child may be having. The staff at family and pediatric dentists’ offices are trained to work with kids and better know how to navigate small mouths and the big feelings that might come with them. 

Next, do what you can to ensure your kids have positive associations with going to the dentist. For little kids, try dressing up to make dental visits fun. For any age, take your kids to a park, playground, or favorite restaurant after dentist appointments so that they get a little reward and a great experience on those days. 

You can also make dental visits a positive experience by modeling good dental habits and teaching your kids great oral hygiene. If they see you brushing twice a day and flossing daily, your kids are more likely to follow suit. This will result in a healthier mouth and teeth for both of you, which then makes for easier visits at the dentist. It will also mean your kids are more likely to grow up enjoying taking care of their oral health.

Getting Your Kid’s Dental Health Screening 

Getting your child a dental health screening is important for their oral health and for their academic performance. In California, you have about 18 months to get the screening done while your child is in kindergarten or 1st grade. If cost is a concern, keep in mind that since it’s required by the state, it should be covered by your insurance with little or no cost to you. If you don’t have insurance that covers this screening, talk to your child’s school or your dentist about programs that may be able to help you. 

Take advantage of this opportunity to start your kids’ school career and dental health off on the right foot. Early access to great dental care will help your kids begin their academic career strong, and keep their mouth healthy at the same time. Make sure you continue to bring your kids in for regular dental checkups and cleanings every six months. This will help protect their teeth and prevent dental problems and the distracting pain that comes with them. 

For more information about how oral health can impact your whole-body health, and more, check out If Your Mouth Could Talk, a book about the mouth-body connection by Dr. Kami Hoss. As a dentist, dental expert, and parent, Dr. Hoss knows how essential a family focus on oral health can be. Start early and keep your family’s dental health and hygiene strong so that your kids are ready to learn and grow each and every day. 

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3482021/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222359/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4054024/

 

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