Dental hygienists are trying to raise awareness about the importance of oral hygiene, noting dental pain is one of the most common reasons for school absenteeism among children.
Studies show children with dental pain are three times more likely to miss school. In addition, a child or teenager with noticeable dental disorders, such as blackened teeth or tooth loss, can take a negative toll on their self-esteem.
Betty A. Kabel, director of dental outreach for North Florida Medical Centers, sees it all too often, noting for too long, people have treated oral hygiene as a secondary issue instead of a primary concern.
“If a child has a broken arm, they would not be walking around with a broken arm,” Kabel pointed out. “Your tooth, if it’s an infection, or it’s abscess, it’s broken, there is a problem, so it’s not OK for a kid to be in tooth pain.”
Student health is among the top causes for chronic absenteeism, which includes dental pain, vision problems or mental health, according to the Healthy Schools Campaign.
Kabel argued there needs to be more awareness and expanded access for dental care, especially in rural areas.
Kabel stated she hears first-hand from the children she treats who feel embarrassed, and find it difficult to concentrate due to severe pain. She warned there are worse outcomes for untreated dental problems.
“Children die from tooth infections,” Kabel stressed. “The infection is right there next to their brain, it’s in their bloodstream, so it’s a matter of life and death, when you’re walking around with an infection in your mouth. ”
Florida is among the top states in the nation with individuals living in Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas, and Kabel noted her organization tries to fill the gaps by working with parents and caregivers to try to treat kids who end up in their school nurse’s office with severe pain.
She added there are not a lot of providers who see children, so they do their best to get kids into the ones who do provide care to kids.