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What’s the Connection Between Oral Health and School Performance?

When your child is in constant oral pain, they might have a hard time focusing. Especially at school. It’s not easy working on your math exercises when you’ve got a terrible toothache. And it can be quite challenging to keep your mind on the lecture when you’re distracted by the throbbing pain. The connection between oral health and school performance, then, is something you shouldn’t take for granted.

But how far does this link go? Farther than you might think. Beyond mere distraction, poor oral health contributes to lower grades and school absences among disadvantaged children. This effect goes for both elementary and high school children.  But what makes this connection between oral health and school performance? Let’s delve into this deeper.

Chronic pain affects your child’s mental functions

The effect of chronic pain in adults is well-chronicled. Dick and Riddell, in their critical review of Cognitive and school functioning in children and adolescents with chronic pain, note that most research on chronic pain involves adults. More researchers have yet to look into these disruptions in younger children. Existing studies on the topic, however, have made it clear that kids are as affected cognitively by chronic pain. This effect particularly affects learning.

For one, chronic pain can warp how your child takes in information. In a study by Buodo et al, the researchers found that children who experienced migraines “experienced attentional disturbance when actively completing tasks and during preattentive processing of information.” Dick and Riddell, who cited this study in their article, noted that this provides further evidence to the relationship between chronic pain and cognitive function.

For another, children with chronic pain may opt to stay at home. This decision eats into their school time. These absences may make it difficult for your child to cope with further learning material. This difficulty affects their performance in school.

While this goes for any chronic pain, this is especially true for kids with oral health problems. In terms of chronic diseases, cavities are one of the most common in children. Left untreated, they could result in more painful conditions over time. And much like chronic pain, they could take a toll on your child’s performance in school.

Dental health is a socioeconomic concern

As much as we’d like to keep our kids in school, these problems still affect the most vulnerable. In some areas and communities, access to dental care doesn’t come by as quickly as others.  Some patients might travel great distances to get to their regular check-up. These distances could put a strain not only on their schedules but on their budgets too. This strain comes particularly if they don’t have their mode of transportation.

Aside from access, however, another problem when it comes to dental care is affordability. While it is as important as getting other modes of healthcare, dental care might come off as more expensive than others, with most people lacking the needed dental insurance.

In this case, poor oral health might serve as an indicator of something else. Aside from chronic pain, children with constant caries might be under duress from the external factors that surround them. It is then essential to consider these factors when looking into the impact of oral health and school performance to gather a clearer picture of its connection.

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