Dental Problems Affect School Performance

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Tooth decay can have far-reaching effects on a child's life. Untreated decay can cause pain and infection that may lead to difficulty eating, speaking, socializing and sleeping, as well as poor overall health. Dental problems also negatively affect school attendance and performance.

In California alone, an estimated 504,000 children missed at least one school day in 2007 due to a toothache or other oral health concern. A 2011 study in North Carolina found that students with poor dental health were nearly three times more likely than their healthy peers to miss school due to dental pain.  These absences were also linked to weaker academic performance.

A new study provides additional evidence of the connection between dental health and school performance. Researchers examined nearly 1,500 disadvantaged students in the Los Angeles public schools, matching their oral health status to both their academic achievement and attendance records. Children who reported having recent tooth pain were four times more likely to have a low grade-point average—below the median GPA of 2.8—when compared to children who had not had dental pain.

This should concern parents and policy makers because the last national survey showed that roughly one out of nine children aged 9-11 have untreated decay in their permanent teeth. In addition, children with dental problems are more likely to have poor oral health as adults, which can hinder their job prospects.

In the video on this page, a teacher and a high school student share their experiences with how dental problems affect the classroom.