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Can Poor Oral Health Have a Negative Impact of School Performance?

“Get your homework done.”

“Did you do your homework?”

“How did you do on your test?”

“How could you get a C? You studied all night!”

Nowhere in here do you see, “Brush your teeth,” “Did you be sure to brush before you went to bed?” or even, “How do you have a cavity? You brushed every night and day!”

We see this all too often – parents who focus an incredible amount of their attention on homework and grades, and too little attention on oral care and prevention. Unlike with homework and grades – and aside from when they’re teaching their toddlers to brush – when it comes to oral health, many parents don’t feel a need to “keep tabs,” so to speak – they just trust their children to brush and floss on a daily basis, even if they themselves fail to remember to do these very things. Also, unlike parent-teacher conferences, most parents don’t know when the last dentist appointment took place, much less when the next one should be scheduled. After all, poor oral health—unlike poor grades—can’t harm a child’s future, right?

Wrong.

According to the Academy of General Dentistry, pediatric dental disease is 5 times more common in the average American child than asthma, and 7 times more common than hay fever. It also accounts for more than 51 million missed school hours each year. Yet, despite these staggering numbers, the number of children who don’t receive oral care remains fairly high, with about 1 in 5 children deprived of dental care each year. But why – in an age when dental care—though not easily accessible to all—is reasonably accessible to many?

As you may very well know, since 2008 our economy has been a bit...shaky, to say the least. With everything from historically low mortgage rates to less than ideal credit ratings, it’s understandable that our collective financial hardships have caused many of us to cut back on expenses. However, unlike MD visits and living expenses, dental care is just not at the top of the list of “essentials” for most people. In fact, when financial stability became a distant memory, so did dental care, with 73% of Americans claiming they don’t make the trip to the dentist because of “financial hardships.” But this is a mistake, because not only does lack of dental care impact the quality of our children’s oral health, but it in turn impacts their performance in school – and subsequently, their future.

According to an article published by CBS News, children in the Los Angeles School District were four times more likely to have a grade point average lower than the median GPA of 2.8 than their orally-healthy counterparts. In addition, dental problems were responsible for an average of 2.1 missed school days in elementary students, and 2.3 days for high school students. This means that not only are these children’s grades already low, but they’re missing out on more class-time than their healthier, better performing class-mates, and therefore, missing out on a much needed education.

What You Can Do:

The economy may be suffering, but your child doesn’t have to. Great oral health is a choice—one that, though most children cannot make for themselves, their parents—YOU—can. For many, it’s not a difficult decision to make: Either make the necessary sacrifices to ensure your child’s well being, or don’t, and watch as they suffer the very real, very painful and very expensive, consequences. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be a choice at all.

I understand that getting to the dentist is not always easy, but there are ways to maintain good oral health – and prevent disease – at home. These include:

·     Establishing good dental hygiene habits early: When your child is a year old, introduce them to toothpaste. Put a pea-sized portion on their brush and press it into the bristles so they won’t eat it. When the gaps between their teeth begin to close, introduce them to floss.

·     Setting an example: Your child looks up to you – serve as a good role model and practice good dental hygiene habits yourself.

·     Performing your own cursory “exam”: Look for signs of periodontal disease, including bleeding gums, receding gums, swollen and bright red gums and bad breath. Also look for signs of decay.

·     Scheduling check-ups: Though doing all of the above will help to preserve your child’s oral health, it is still important for you to schedule family checkups and cleanings at least once a year. There is only so much you can do yourself, and if you hope to see your child maintain great health and succeed in school, sacrificing one day out of the year to get your child in for a checkup will be well worth your time.

I am not knocking the importance of keeping up with your child’s homework and grades—I am merely stressing the fact that without good oral health, your efforts may be futile. With the growing body of research highlighting the oral systematic connection, it’s growing increasingly clear that great oral health is one of the keys to a fulfilling life, and without it, your child – and yourself – may never really know what it means to truly live up to their potential. Don’t let your child suffer because your wallet is – visit our page, “Prevention Tips for Children” to learn more about how we can help you and your family succeed.

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