Making sure children visit the dentist before school starts
As Illinois schools prepare to resume classes this fall — whether in person, remote or a hybrid approach — parents should make sure their kids are healthy and well to start the school year right. That includes a visit to the dentist for a checkup before classes begin.
With the focus in recent months on social distancing, wearing face masks and handwashing, there likewise remains a need to continue practicing preventive oral health care. A visit to the dentist will help discover oral health issues that could potentially impact a child’s grades, attendance and overall school performance.
Tooth decay continues to be one of the most common chronic childhood conditions, affecting 2 in 5 Illinois children. The problem gets worse when cavities are left untreated, which is the case among 22% of students. An estimated 5,600 Illinois third graders suffer from dental pain, swelling or infection — a rate that has doubled in the last five years.1
Oral health problems can take a toll on the whole family. More than 2 in 5 parents nationwide said they had to deal with their child’s unplanned oral health issue last year —leading 28% of children to miss school while parents missed an average of 7 hours of work.2 Students’ grades also suffered: One study showed that those with tooth pain were four times more likely to have a grade-point average below the median of 2.8.3
Poor oral health can not only hurt children’s performance in school but also their overall health and well-being, quality of life and later success. That’s because cavities and other dental problems can be a distraction, make it more difficult to concentrate and affect students’ self-esteem, relationships and ability to succeed.4
Importance of preventive care
During a routine dental exam, the dentist and dental hygienist will clean your child’s teeth and check for any oral health problems including cavities and gum disease. An examination of the mouth can not only reveal the condition of your kids’ oral health but will also provide clues on whether they’re having any problems with their overall health.5
Illinois requires routine dental checkups for all children in kindergarten and grades 2, 6 and 9. Yet some students aren’t getting these checkups. Nearly 1 in 3 Illinois students have failed to receive their required school dental exams in previous years.6
What to expect at an upcoming dental visit
During the COVID-19 pandemic, your child’s dental checkup may have been delayed. Dentists have added safety measures to ensure that you and your kids get the vital care you need, including routine cleanings and exams.
Ask your dental office about added safety measures so you and your children know what to expect. Some differences you may see include:
- Social distancing: You may not have as many options for appointment times, which help dental practices limit the number of people in the office. You may be asked to fill out paperwork online in advance. You may also be asked to wait in your car before your appointment and you may not be able to go into the clinic with your child unless they need assistance.
- Screening: Upon arrival, your child may have their temperature taken. You may also be asked screening questions to ensure you and your child don’t have COVID-19 symptoms the day of the appointment.
- Patient safety and protection: Your child may need to wash their hands before treatment, and they may see additional dividers throughout the dental office. Staff may be wearing face masks and shields.
- Procedures: Your child’s treatment may be modified to reduce airborne particles, such as hand-polishing their teeth instead of using an ultrasonic cleaning. Ask your dental office for details of these potential changes, and how you’ll be notified if your child needs additional dental work.
Safety and well-being have always been emphasized at the dentist, with the extra precautions now taking place to prevent spreading COVID-19. Regular preventive checkups are integral for reducing and eliminating tooth decay. Visiting the dentist regularly, along with brushing twice daily, flossing daily, eating a well-balanced diet and drinking water instead of sugary drinks all can help prevent cavities and keep children healthy and smiling as they begin the new school year.
1 Illinois Department of Public Health, Healthy Smiles Healthy Growth 2018-2019
2 2019 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey
3 American Journal of Public Health
4 National Maternal & Child Oral Health Resource Center
5 Mayo Clinic
6 Illinois State Board of Education