Oral Health and School Performance: Is There a Link?

Oral Health and School Performance: Is There a Link?

We all know that issues at school can impact a student’s performance. Whether kids are being bullied, they’re having trouble with a teacher, or they can’t seem to grasp the curriculum, their work could suffer as a result. Issues at home could also factor into performance, especially if there isn’t a strong support network for studying or there are familial issues, just for example.

Another potential problem for many students revolves around health, and studies have shown that students with poor oral health are more likely to have problems performing at school than those who practice good oral hygiene and visit the dentist for regular checkup and cleaning. How, exactly, can issues with oral health affect student performance? Here’s what you need to know about the link between the two.

The Distraction Caused by Pain

Anyone who’s ever suffered a toothache understands how distracting it can be. The constant ache caused by a cavity or other infection can be physically exhausting and mentally draining. It can impact ability to focus, lead to irritability, and obviously interfere with a student’s ability to learn.

Poor oral hygiene and a failure to schedule regular dental visits can cause a number of problems for children, starting with the spread of bacteria in the mouth, leading to plaque and tartar buildup. This, in turn, can cause issues like gum disease (including swelling, tenderness, bleeding, and other issues), as well as tooth decay (including cavities and more severe infection).

Naturally, these conditions can cause pain, whether it affects the gum tissue, a single infected tooth, or multiple teeth. Students that suffer from dental pain may be naturally distracted, both in school and at home while they study, and they may miss more school than healthier peers, further impacting their performance in school.

Missed School

Studies have actually shown that students dealing with oral health concerns are more likely to miss school and suffer performance setbacks as a result. A study published in 2011, drawing data from the North Carolina Child Health Assessment and Monitoring Program from 2008, extrapolated that children with poor oral health were roughly three times as likely to miss school for issues related to dental pain. Further, these absences were linked to poor school performance, as opposed to absences for routine dental care.

There’s just no getting around the fact that children suffering from poor oral health are more likely to experience dental pain, to miss school as a result, and to see performance issues as a result. This means they are doubly impacted by their condition – they’re not only distracted by pain in class, but they fall ever further behind when they miss school altogether due to dental pain.

Poor Nutrition and Other Health Concerns

When children suffer from poor oral health, it can have an impact on overall health. Oral pain, for example, can affect a child’s ability to eat. In some cases, oral health problems like gingivitis or periodontitis are the result of poor diet, perhaps paired with lax oral hygiene. However, if children experience pain when they chew, they may eat less or limit their diet, losing out on needed nutrients.

This, in turn, could affect energy and attention span. It could have an impact on sleep, further affecting mood and performance. It could even reduce immunity, leading to increased illness and more missed school. The link between oral health and overall health is by this point well-documented in studies, although further research is needed to uncover the extent of this relationship.

Social Issues

In addition to the physical and mental hurdles children must face when it comes to oral health concerns, they may also deal with social issues that impact them on an emotional level and further contribute to performance setbacks in school. If kids are suffering from oral pain, they may not have the energy to participate in social activity, which could be demoralizing.

Some oral health issues could also be embarrassing. In addition to oral pain, gum disease and tooth decay can cause symptoms like bad odor in the mouth, or even tooth loss in extreme cases, and these issues could affect a child’s confidence.

The long and short of it is that oral health problems impact children in a variety of ways that could negatively affect their school performance. Ensuring good oral health with a proper regimen of at home care and regular dental visits is not only better for a child’s health, but also for ability to perform in the school setting.

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