Study links lack of dental insurance to poor grades for school kids
A lack of dental insurance for children contributes to poor performance at school, a new study shows.
A study by USC’s Ostrow School of Dentistry matched the dental health status of nearly 1,500 poor schoolchildren in the Los Angeles Unified School District with the students’ academic achievement and attendance records. The study, published in the September 2012 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, found that for kids who had poor oral health, their grades were lower and they had more absences from school than kids with good oral health.
Children who reported recent tooth pain were four times more likely to post low grade-point averages — below the median GPA of 2.8 — compared with children who reported no oral pain, according to the study.
On average, elementary schoolchildren missed six days of class a year, according to the study, and high school students missed 2.6 days. For elementary students, 2.1 of those days of missed school were tied to dental problems; for high school students, it was 2.3 days.
More than 51 million hours of school are lost each year in the U.S. because of dental-related conditions, according to federal estimates.
One factor in whether children miss school because of dental problems is the accessibility of dental care, according to the USC study. In the study, 11 percent of children with limited access to dental care — such as lack of insurance or lack of transportation — missed school because of poor dental health, as opposed to 4 percent of children who had better access to dental care.
In 2010, 85 percent of children age 5 to 17 had visited a dentist in the previous year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children from families without insurance are 2.5 times less likely than insured children to receive dental care, the CDC says.
“We recommend that oral health programs must be more integrated into other health, educational and social programs, especially those that are school-based,” Roseann Mulligan, chair of the USC dental school’s Division of Dental Public Health and Pediatric Dentistry and an author of the study, says in a news release. “Furthermore, widespread population studies are needed to demonstrate the enormous personal, societal and financial burdens that this epidemic of oral disease is causing on a national level.”
The federal health care reform law aims to improve the availability of dental care for at-risk children, according to the Pew Center on the States. Under the law, about 5.3 million more American children will have some form of dental insurance by 2014, according to Pew. Mostly, this coverage will come through public insurance programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
“Expanded insurance coverage must be coupled with policies that meaningfully improve children’s access to care,” Pew says. “In other words, states have to make coverage matter.”