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Child's Oral Health is Tied to School Performance

A study says that kids with dental issues are more likely to struggle academically due to increased absences and lower grades. Here, a local dentist discusses preventative care.

We strive to give our kids everything they need to succeed – a loving home, the best education and the latest gear. But, did you know postponing dental checkups could derail your child's academic progress?

Oral problems contribute to increased school absences and lower grades, notes a study led by the Ostrow School of Dentistry at the University of Southern California. Students with toothaches were almost four times more likely to fall below the median 2.8 GPA when compared to children without oral pain.

The big shocker is over 1 in 4 Michigan third-graders has untreated dental disease, according to a recent Kids Count in Michigan report. Most at risk were children without dental insurance and those who hadn't been to the dentist in the past year.

"Cavities, abscesses and falls are a huge portion of missed school days and missed learning opportunities," says Dr. Jason Golnick, DDS, of Golnick Pediatric Dental Associates in Taylor and West Bloomfield.

Preventative care

Establishing a "dental home" by seeing the same hygienist and doctor regularly can aid prevention and make the experience more comfortable, explains Golnick. Parents should stay for the checkup, especially with younger children, to provide comfort and share important information. Visits may include proper brushing and flossing instructions and are generally scheduled every six months, unless otherwise directed by a dentist.

Once at home, a parent should help a child under 6 brush twice daily then supervise as the child brushes his own teeth until 10 or 11, as recommended by the American Dental Association.

If you have a little athlete, avoid preventable injuries by getting them proper gear. "Whenever there is a contact sport, you should wear a mouth guard regardless of age," Golnick advises.

Even with proper dental care, if your child often consumes processed food and drinks, they're at risk for cavities, or worse. Parents need to understand labels and serving sizes so they know just how much sugar their kid consumes.

"A child that drinks tons of juice not only is more susceptible to cavities, but also is more likely to develop diabetes, more likely to be obese or develop high blood pressure," says Golnick.

Reducing added sugar won't happen overnight. Start small by giving only water to drink between meals and educating caregivers about the importance of curbing your child's intake.

If you freak out over dental visits, your youngster may run and hide come checkup time. Instead, show them you brush, floss and get regular cleanings. Seeing you take care of your teeth teaches your kids to take care of theirs. Make it fun – let your child pick out a special toothbrush then brush side-by-side, so she can mimic your flawless technique.

"There is a lot of information that links overall health and cardiovascular health to oral health," says Golnick, "getting started on the right foot at an early age is important not only for your child's teeth, but also for their self-esteem and overall well-being."

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