Painful teeth can keep kids awake

They’re irritable, can’t concentrate, and their teachers are wondering about learning problems when they should be asking the children whether their mouths hurt.

It sounds obvious, but in the list of variables that affect schoolchildren’s learning, painful cavities are relative newcomers. Parents and teachers have been told to troubleshoot student distraction with everything from vision tests to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) screenings, but a trip to a dentist might be in order. And the sooner in the school term, the better.

“For many families, ‘back to school’ means stops for clothes, haircuts and supplies. But all too often, dental checkups are neglected. This oversight can adversely affect a child’s academic performance.

“Pain in the mouth can keep kids awake at night, distract them in class, keep them from playing with their friends and make it difficult for them to eat,” said Dr. Katina Morelli, D.D.S., dental director for Delta Dental Plan of Illinois. “If sneezing from hay fever or the trauma of asthma distracts a child, doctors can intervene with various treatments. The surgeon general has pointed out that tooth decay is more common than either of these conditions, and we can and should treat it, too.”

Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease—five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever, according to the surgeon general’s report, Oral Health in America, which was released in 2000.

Meanwhile, a study released at the end of 2002 reports 47 percent of the 35,938 children in the study did not receive the generally recommended two annual dental visits, and 20 percent didn’t have a single dental visit. The researchers speculated that parents might not know or understand the recommended guidelines for dental checkups.

51 million lost hours

The surgeon general’s report also stated that more than 51 million school hours are lost to dental-related illness each year. When dental problems are treated and children are no longer in pain, both their learning and school attendance improve, according to the American Journal of Public Health.

“In addition to scheduling regular checkups, parents can periodically check their children’s mouths for signs of periodontal disease, including bleeding, swollen and/or bright red gums, persistent bad breath, and gums that have receded from the teeth,” Dr. Morelli said.

Delta Dental Plan of Illinois is a not-for-profit dental service corporation providing comprehensive, easy-to-use and cost-effective benefits to more than 1 million employees and family members in more than 3,000 employee groups throughout Illinois. Founded in 1967, the corporation is based in Lisle, Ill.

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