New Report: Poor Oral Health Impairs Children’s Ability to Learn

Posted & filed under Children's Oral Health and Fluoride.

For children and adolescents, health and education are inextricably linked. As former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, MD, has said, “you cannot educate a child who is not healthy, and you cannot keep a child healthy who is not educated.” A new report from the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center demonstrates how oral health, too, is essential for learning and growing.

The report, Oral Health and Learning, outlines how the oral health issues facing millions of children in the United States today negatively impact their opportunities to learn, grow, and become healthy, productive adults. The solution to this problem is multi-faceted and includes preserving and expanding cost-effective dental disease prevention practices such as ensuring the optimal level of fluoride in public drinking water.

Millions of children experience “persistent dental pain, endurance of dental abscesses (infection in the mouth), inability to chew foods well, embarrassment about discolored and damaged teeth, and distraction from play and learning,” the report says. In general, children with poor oral health status are more likely to experience pain, miss days of school, and perform poorly in school compared to children with healthy teeth. Some of the report’s findings include:

• School age children with oral health problems are more likely to have problems at school and less likely to complete homework.

• Children and adolescents who experience oral health problems are more likely to experience a number of emotional health issues, such as feeling “worthless and inferior, shy, unhappy, sad or depressed.”

• The worse a child’s oral health status, the greater likelihood that a child will miss school, negatively affecting the child’s overall performance. On average, children and adolescents with oral health problems miss almost one more school day per year that other children and adolescents.

• Children in low income families who experienced toothaches in the last six months are almost six times as likely to miss school days because of oral health issues compared to children in low income families that have not experienced toothaches.

This new report underscores what we already know about children’s oral health: life is better with teeth. In order for children to live long, healthy, productive lives, they need access to strong oral health services and preventive measures, including community water fluoridation, throughout their lives.

Oral Health and Learning (PDF 264 KB)