Summer dental checkups can prevent school absence, lower grades

As summer vacation begins with exciting plans, it's easy to put off your back-to-school list until later. However, parents and guardians might consider crossing one item off early: scheduling their children's summer dental appointments.

Maria Jose Cervantes-Mendez, DDS, MS

When school resumes in the fall, children are three times more likely to miss school due to dental-related pain and four times more likely to have low grade point average than other medical conditions.

“Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States,” said Maria Jose Cervantes-Mendez, DDS, MS, associate professor/clinical associate professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “One in four children in our community may have tooth decay by the time they enter kindergarten.”

The cost of delayed care

Cervantes' statement was backed by the National Institutes of Health and the National Children's Oral Health Foundation, which said pediatric emergency dental care cost $1.6 billion in 2012. More expensive care than affordable preventative care costs more than just time and money.

Micaela B. Gibbs, DDS, MHA

“Tooth decay in children can have serious long-term effects on their overall health and quality of life,” said Micaela B. Gibbs, DDS, MHA, chief dental officer at UT Dentistry. “The inability to eat can lead to malnutrition and stunted growth, while the pain caused by dental disease can impair a child’s ability to sleep and learn. The stigma of poor oral health can affect self-esteem and social interaction. All of this adds up to long-term consequences that last into adulthood .

According to Gibbs, two factors increase the risk of cavities turning into serious infections:

While many families know what a healthy and balanced diet consists of, rising costs combined with a lack of readily available nutritious foods have forced people to consume a diet rich in carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes, beans and bread. When carbohydrate particles get stuck between teeth after eating and drinking, they turn into sugar, which is the preferred food source for bacteria in the mouth.

Many families face significant barriers when trying to receive dental care. The high cost of dental treatment, lack of insurance coverage, insufficient number of Medicaid providers, language barriers and geographic challenges all present obstacles for well-intentioned families. For many cultures, a lack of dental experience or understanding of its importance can also lead to hesitancy in seeking treatment.

Provide low-cost care

South Texas families can have peace of mind knowing they have low-cost, high-quality care close to home.

Ricardo Salinas Children's Dentistry in San Antonio and Laredo Health Department Dental Clinic provide patients with expert care at a manageable cost. Each clinic employs a bilingual staff, accepts Medicaid patients, offers pediatric services on a sliding fee scale, and is managed by board-certified pediatric dental faculty.

“We are very proud of the exceptional care provided at our two community clinics,” Gibbs said. “Patients will never experience lower quality care because the cost of services is reduced.”

“You can make a reservation,” Cervantes said. “Dental problems should be the least of our children’s concerns while they’re at school, and we can help make sure that’s the case.”

This summer, families can make an appointment with the Ricardo Salinas Dental Clinic by calling 210-450-8700 or the Laredo Health Department Dental Clinic by calling 956-523-7500. Clinic locations and maps can be found on the School of Dentistry's website. Pediatric appointments are also available at the UT Dental Clinic at South Texas Medical Center in San Antonio.

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