Asthma, diabetes and obesity are the childhood afflictions that receive the most public attention. But the health problem that causes more missed school days than any other isn’t any of them. It’s ... tooth decay.
Tooth decay is the “single most chronic disease of childhood,” according to the America Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. It’s five times more common than asthma, four times more common than early childhood obesity and 20 times more common than diabetes.
Nearly 2 million days of school are lost nationwide in children 5 through 17 because of dental problems, according to the Healthy Schools Campaign. And no, tooth decay doesn’t wait until the permanent teeth come in.
“Tooth decay can start as soon as teeth develop,” said Fred Barnett, chair of the Department of Dentistry at Einstein Healthcare Network. “There are serious consequences if it’s left untreated.”
And while parents may take their children for an annual visit to the pediatrician, most aren’t nearly as vigilant about taking them to have their teeth checked; half of all children have never visited a dentist.
Dental problems disproportionately affect socially disadvantaged children. Mexican-American children are more likely than black and white peers to suffer from what is formally called Early Childhood Caries.
Tooth decay may not sound like a serious problem. But the toll can be far-reaching: missed school days can lead to declines in school performance. Pain can prevent children from sleeping or eating, which has a profound effect on overall health.