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Mind and Body: The impact of a smile on learning

By brandi bush

Public Health Registered Dental Hygienist

Often a child’s smile is one the most innocent and endearing images you will encounter.

A child’s smile can express so much joy and innocence in a single moment. However, many children have little to smile about.

Oral health problems for many children are an everyday nuisance. Persistent pain or discomfort due to untreated dental cavities, dental abscesses (infection), or fractured teeth has become their daily reality.

Imagine a child you know struggling to focus in class due to their untreated oral needs, unable to chew foods well at lunch, or feeling embarrassed about the poor appearance of their smile.

Children and adolescents are more likely to feel sad, depressed and inferior compared to those not dealing with dental issues.

Additionally, kids have a more difficult time verbalizing their dental issues.

Most of my elementary years I lived with very poor oral health. I understand firsthand how a child can live the effects of untreated dental cavities.

Chewing my food on one side of my mouth was a means of coping that I thought was normal.

Teachers may notice a student exhibiting pain associated behaviors such as irritability, inattention, or nervousness/anxiety or diminished classroom participation.

We may not understand the cause of such behavior if we are unaware of the problems in the child’s mouth. Learning, speaking and even eating can be impacted if dental problems are not resolved.

Poor nutrition can have an effect on a child’s cognitive development, according to Oral Health and Learning by National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center.

A child’s poor oral health will likely impact their attendance as well. They are more likely to be absent from school as well as miss out on school activities.

This directly affects their school performance overall. Students from low income families who can not access needed dental treatment are three times as likely to miss school due to oral health problems than those who could receive treatment.

For students in Clark County, access to preventative services such as fluoride varnish, cleanings and dental sealants can be obtained with school based dental services.

The Clark County Health Department has provided dental services to students of Clark County Public Schools since 2015.

Services include an assessment, dental report card, and referral to a community dentist if applicable.

All students are encouraged to participate in our program. It’s important for children to have a positive dental experience in a comfortable atmosphere at a school.

Begin a lifelong habit of routine dental care and a health mouth.

Consent forms are available at the Health Department or on our website http://www.clarkhealthdept.org/dentalservices.html and can be returned to the school nurse or family resource center.