Thoughtful Parenting: Child oral health and learning

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— Early tooth loss caused by dental decay can result in failure to thrive, impaired speech development, absence from and inability to concentrate in school and reduced self-esteem.

Thoughtful Parenting

This weekly column about parenting issues is written by local early childhood experts. It publishes on Mondays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

Nutrition and learning

• People who are missing teeth have to limit their food choices because of chewing problems, which may result in nutritionally inadequate diets.

• The daily nourishment that children receive affects their readiness for school. Inadequate nutrition during childhood can have detrimental effects on children’s cognitive development and on productivity in adulthood. Nutritional deficiencies also negatively affect children’s school performance and their ability to concentrate and perform complex tasks and their behavior.

What parents can do to support oral health

1. Have your child seen by a dental professional when they get their first tooth or by their first birthday,

2. brush at a minimum two times daily, and

3. limit the amount and number of sugary snacks.

Students with preventable or untreated health and development problems may have trouble concentrating and learning, have frequent absences from school or develop permanent disabilities that affect their ability to learn and grow.

Children who take a test while they have a toothache are unlikely to score as well as children who are undistracted by pain.

Poor oral health has been related to decreased school performance, poor social relationships and less success later in life. Children experiencing pain are distracted and unable to concentrate on schoolwork.

Children are often unable to verbalize their dental pain. Teachers may notice a child who is having difficulty attending to tasks or who is demonstrating the effects of pain, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, depression and withdrawal from normal activities. However, teachers cannot understand their student's behaviors if they are not aware that a child has a dental problem.

Children with chronic dental pain are unable to focus, are easily distracted and may have problems with schoolwork completion. They may also experience deterioration of school performance, which negatively impacts their self-esteem.

Left untreated, the pain and infection caused by tooth decay can lead to problems in eating, speaking and learning.

If a child is suffering pain from a dental problem, it may affect the child’s school attendance and mental and social well-being while at school.

School nurses report a range of oral health problems such as tooth decay, gingival disease, malocclusion (poor bite), loose teeth and oral trauma in children.

When children’s acute dental problems are treated and they are not experiencing pain, their learning and school-attendance records improve.

Lyndi Smith is a registered dental hygienist with the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition, which is a partner of the First Impressions' Children's Health Advocacy Committee.

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