Dental Tribune America

Study links dental problems to lower grades at school

By Dental Tribune International
August 20, 2012

LOS ANGELES, Calif., USA: Researchers have discovered that oral health may significantly affect the academic performance of socio-economically disadvantaged boys and girls. They studied 1,495 elementary and high school children and found that those who reported dental problems were more likely to have lower grades and missed school more often because they had limited access to dental care.

Evaluating clinical dental exams, as well as academic achievements and attendance records, researchers from the University of Southern California's Ostrow School of Dentistry observed that children with toothache were almost four times more likely to have a grade point average below 2.8.

According to Roseann Mulligan, chair of the school's Division of Dental Public Health and Pediatric Dentistry and author of the study, poor oral health not only seems to be associated with lower grades, but also appears to result in increased absence from school for children and more missed work hours for parents.

The study revealed that elementary school children missed a total of six days per year, with 2.1 days accounting for dental problems. High school children missed a total of 2.6 days per year and were absent for 2.3 days owing to dental issues. On average, parents of disadvantaged children missed 2.5 days of work per year to care for children with dental problems, Mulligan added. The researchers thus estimate that 58 and 80 school hours per 100 elementary and high school-aged children are missed each year, respectively.

Limited accessibility owing to a lack of insurance and transportation was identified as a major reason for missed school days, as about 11 percent of the children with limited access to dental care missed school for oral health reasons, compared with only four percent of those with greater access.

"We recommend that oral health programs be more integrated into other health, educational and social programs, especially those that are school based. Furthermore, widespread population studies are needed to demonstrate the enormous personal, societal and financial burdens that this epidemic of oral disease is causing on a national level," said Mulligan.

The children were enrolled in Los Angeles County public schools. In a prior study, the researchers had found that 73 percent of disadvantaged children in Los Angeles have dental caries.

The study will be published in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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