Back to school: Are children ready to learn?

Added August 26th, 2014 by Jan Hudson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

For children to succeed in school, they must go to school “ready to learn” —  rested, fed and healthy. But how many children will start the school year with a toothache or other dental problem?

According to the Department of Community Health’s 2011 -2012 Count Your Smiles survey, the number is likely pretty high.

Survey highlights include:

  • Nearly one in 14 (7%) Michigan third-grade children were in need of immediate dental care for signs or symptoms of pain, infection, or swelling.
  • Over one in four Michigan third-grade children, 27.1%, have untreated dental disease.
  • Untreated dental disease was highest in the Detroit area at 41.9%, with a higher prevalence of African American, Arab, and Hispanic school children with untreated dental disease. 
  • Oral pain can impact a child’s learning, nutrition, and sleeping. Over one in nine parents of third-grade children, 11.3%, reported their child had a toothache when biting or chewing in the past six months.

Unfortunately dental caries (cavities) remain the No. 1 chronic disease in children, despite the fact they are preventable. Our children’s oral health has not been a high enough priority.  While Healthy Kids Dental will expand to Kalamazoo and Macomb counties in October, the children in Kent, Oakland and Wayne Counties will remain left out.

Third grade reading success has been in the news a lot lately with legislation under consideration to retain children in third grade if they do not demonstrate proficiency in reading. Based on the statistics from the Count Your Smiles survey, it should not be surprising that many children are unable to concentrate in school due to untreated dental disease. Research links oral health to academic performance not only from the ability to concentrate and learn, but also from the number of missed days of school due to dental issues.

The Kids Count in Michigan Data Profile 2013  provides the following snapshots for children not proficient in reading at the beginning of fourth grade for the areas not covered by Healthy Kids Dental:

  • Kent County – 27%
  • Oakland County – 24.9%
  • Wayne County – 43.7%
  • Detroit – 60.1%

As a state, we need to focus on the underlying causes that prevent children from learning to read rather than punishing the child and family. Improving the oral health of our children by expanding Healthy Kids Dental statewide would be a great place to start.

— Jan Hudson

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