According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 34 million school hours are lost each year because of emergency dental care. In fact, ample evidence links oral health in children and academic success. So, in addition to number 2 pencils and notebooks, every child’s back-to-school list should include a trip to the dentist.
NO SHORTAGE OF EVIDENCE
In a recently published review of 76 studies conducted across the globe, Canadian researchers found that untreated oral disease is a major cause of missed school days and poor academic performance.1
This echoes the findings of an earlier study of 1495 disadvantaged elementary and high school students from Los Angeles County public schools. Matching dental examination findings with academic achievement and attendance, the study revealed that students with toothaches were almost four times more likely to have a low grade point average.
Also, about 11% of students lacking access to needed dental care missed school compared with 4% of those with access. Per 100 elementary and high school–aged children, 58 and 80 school hours, respectively, are missed annually.2
ROUTINE CARE VS DENTAL PAIN
Studying 2,183 schoolchildren, researchers in North Carolina found kids with poor oral health were nearly three times more likely to miss school because of dental pain. But while absences caused by pain were associated with poorer school performance, absences for routine care were not.3
In a similar study, Saudi Arabian researchers found that dental caries, dental pain, soft tissue problems, poor oral hygiene, tooth discoloration, tooth mobility, and school absence due to dental pain correlated with the poor academic performance and greater odds of failing among schoolchildren, while dental visits and treatment had a protective effect, lowering the odds of failing.4
THE VALUE OF DENTAL CARE PROGRAMS
The Canadian researchers examined the impacts of existing dental programs on individuals and families. Programs assessed included those that were school-based, long-term care and institutional, community-based, and medical and dental settings. Interventions ranged from oral health education, diagnostic and preventive services, and interventional treatments.
The most common program interventions were diagnostic and preventive care, targeting children, and delivered in school settings. Of those studies, 57% reported significant improvements in reported outcomes, with the biggest change seen in the rate of dental decay.1
Most of the dental programs reviewed reported success in improving oral health and related outcomes, especially in low-income countries and disadvantaged communities — and even some high-income communities, in which access to care has been an issue — where socio-economic impacts of untreated dental diseases can be enormous, with yearly costs ranging into the billions.1
The researchers concluded that all types of programs can have a positive impact, increasing access to services, improving utilization of dental care, and positively impacting oral health-related outcomes at the individual and family levels.1
- Ghoneim A, D’Souza V, Ebnahmady A, et al. The impact of dental care programs on individuals and their families: a scoping review. Dent J (Basel), 2023;11:33.
- Seirawan H, Faust S, Mulligan R. The impact of oral health on the academic performance of disadvantaged children. Am J Public Health. 2012;102:1729-1734.
- Jackson SL, Vann Jr WF, Kotch JB, Pahel BT, Lee JY. Impact of poor oral health on children’s school attendance and performance. Am J Public Health. 2011;101:1900-1906.
- Quadri MFA, Ahmad B. Elucidating the impact of dental caries and treatment on academic performance in children. Int J Paediatr Dent. 2023;33:394-408.