Poor oral health was significantly associated with poor academic performance in children aged 6-17 years, based on data from more than 45,000 children in the United States.
The study, published in the, updates an assessment from 2007 of a similarly representative sample of U.S. children.
“Providing an updated analysis is especially important to understand the dynamics between children’s oral health status and academic performance, given reported improvements in dental care use among children and dental treatment quality and the implementation or expansion of some state-level preventive strategies,” wrote Carol Cristina Guarnizo-Herreño, DDS, PhD, of Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, and her colleagues.
The researchers analyzed data from the 2016 and 2017 versions of National Survey of Children’s Health that included 45,711 children aged 6-17 years. Survey data were collected from parents or other primary caregivers. In the study population, 16% of the children had a least one dental problem, defined as toothache, tooth decay or cavities, or bleeding gums, and 25% of the children had school problems: 67% missed any school, 23% missed more than 3 days of school, and 10% missed more than 6 days of school.
Overall, children with at least 1 dental problem were significantly more likely than those without dental problems to have problems at school (odds ratio, 1.56) or miss at least 1 school day (OR, 1.54) – more than 50% more likely. In addition, children with at least one dental problem were approximately 40% more likely to miss more than 3 days or more than 6 days of school (OR, 1.39 for both).
The association increased when the investigators used children’s oral health ratings; those with oral health rated as poor/fair were approximately 80% more likely to have school problems (OR, 1.77), almost 60% more likely to miss more than 3 days of school (OR, 1.56), and 90% more likely to miss more than 6 days of school, compared with children with oral health rankings of good, very good, or excellent.
Despite some variations in subgroups when the population was stratified by age, sex, race, household income, and health insurance, the associations between oral health problems and academic problems showed “remarkable stability,” across demographic and socioeconomic categories, the researchers said.
The study results were limited by several factors including the inability to identify the mechanisms behind the oral health and academic outcomes relationship, as well as the potential errors in parent or caregiver reports of children’s oral health and school performance, Dr. Guarnizo-Herreño and her associates said. However, the findings support those from an earlier study using 2007 data, and suggest that the link between poor oral health and poor academic performance has lasted for the past decade.
“The relationship between oral health and academic achievement is complex and likely involves multiple and intertwined pathways,” such as the impact of oral pain or discomfort on eating and sleeping that may affect academic performance, they said.
“These findings highlight the need for broad population-wide policies and integrated approaches to promote children’s development and reduce academic deficits that include among other components initiatives to improve oral health through prevention and treatment access strategies,” Dr. Guarnizo-Herreño and her associates concluded.
The study was supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.
SOURCE: Guarnizo-Herreño C et al. J Pediatr. 2019. .