Your child may have the latest wardrobe, school supplies and sports equipment for the new school year, but does she have a healthy mouth and the tools she’ll need to maintain it?
According to the American Dental Association, a dental examination is as important as immunizations and booster shots and should be a regular part of back-to-school preparations. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that tooth decay affects children more than any other chronic infectious disease and 19 percent of children ages 2 to 19 years old have untreated tooth decay. Dental pain or disease can lead to difficulty in eating, speaking, playing and learning as well as millions of hours of missed school.
Your child’s back-to-school checklist should include:
- Regular dental examinations to diagnose and treat or prevent dental problems. Parents and teachers may not realize there’s a dental problem, so regular checkups are important. Your dentist may suggest fluoride treatments or sealants to prevent decay and can diagnose and treat dental problems to save your child pain and lost school time.
- Regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing. Head for the dental care isle when you’re out shopping for notebooks, binders and pencils. If parents buy several toothbrushes they could have their child change to a new one every three months or so, or after an illness. If it’s hard to remember when to change a brush, you could try to change it every time report cards come out. Ask your dentist for a recommendation on how often to change toothbrushes.
- Eating healthy lunches and snacks. Include portable healthy lunch items and snacks in your child’s sack lunch, including grains, milk, cheese, raw vegetables, yogurt or fruit. If your child eats in the school cafeteria, review healthy, balanced food choices with him before the first day of school. Cut back on sugary foods and soft drinks.
- Wearing a properly fitted mouthguard while participating in organized sports, PE classes or playground activities.
Poor Dental Health = Poorer Grades?
Scientists from the Ostrow School of Dentistry at the University of Southern California came to this conclusion after examining nearly 1,500 socioeconomically disadvantaged elementary and high school children in the Los Angeles Unified School District and matching their oral health status to academic achievement and attendance records.
They previously documented that 73 percent of disadvantaged children in Los Angeles have dental caries. The new study, published in September’s American Journal of Public Health Dentistry under the title, “The Impact of Oral Health on the Academic Performance of Disadvantaged Children,” shines light on the specific connection between oral health and this population.
Poor oral health doesn’t just appear to be connected to lower grades, said Dr. Roseann Mulligan, chair of the school’s Division of Dental Public Health and Pediatric Dentistry and corresponding author of the study. Dental problems also seem to cause more absences from school for kids and more missed work for parents. According to study results, children who reported having recent tooth pain were four times more likely to have a low grade point average—below the median GPA of 2.8—when compared to children without oral pain.
“On average, elementary children missed a total of 6 days per year, and high school children missed 2.6 days. For elementary students, 2.1 days of missed school were due to dental problems, and high school students missed 2.3 days due to dental issues,” said Dr. Mulligan. “That shows oral health problems are a very significant factor in school absences. Also, parents missed an average of 2.5 days of work per year to care for children with dental problems.”
One factor that determined whether children miss school due to dental health problems was the accessibility of dental care. Eleven percent of children who had limited access to dental care—due to lack of insurance, lack of transportation or other barriers—missed school due to their poor oral health, as opposed to only four percent of children who had easier access to dental care.
During a professional cleaning and oral exam, Dr. Jaleel will remove plaque bacteria from teeth to help fix early decay. We can also advise parents about effective preventive measures for children’s teeth, such as the use of sealants and fluoride, and brushing and flossing techniques, as well as mouthguards for any sport or activity that could result in a blow to the face or mouth.