Valley Voices

Watch your mouth: How bad teeth can knock out kids’ school success

Dr. Ken Bird of the Fresno County Department of Health encourages good dental health because it can have many repercussions for our overall health.
Dr. Ken Bird of the Fresno County Department of Health encourages good dental health because it can have many repercussions for our overall health. THE FRESNO BEE

Julian started a fight at school today. The kids teased him again. He knew his teeth looked bad, and he talked funny. He knew he shouldn’t fight. However, today was the final teasing straw that broke the camel’s back and Julian took a swing.

You may think this is about bullying, but it is not. It concerns the unintended consequences of poor dental hygiene. We often think of oral health as not very important. However, it has far-reaching impacts we need to understand and prevent.

First, early breakdown of frontal teeth can prevent children from refining certain sounds in their speech.

Second, tooth decay can be very painful. The pain can make eating, sleeping and concentrating difficult.

Third, the physical appearance of tooth decay is a source of embarrassment and can make it difficult to form and maintain healthful social relationships.

Several common practices lead to tooth decay: giving bottles of milk or juice to babies as they fall asleep; not brushing and flossing or doing it incorrectly; drinking too many sugary beverages such as sodas and fruit drinks; and not seeing a dentist for cleaning and treatment.

We’ve all heard advertisements for dental care that tell us a healthy mouth is more than an attractive smile. The fact is, oral health is an issue of huge significance to our personal and public health. Not only is our mouth the portal to our digestive system, but it also serves a key role in our personal interactions and socialization and is a major point of introduction of infection and chronic inflammation.

Poor oral health, in the primary form of dental caries (tooth decay or cavities) in children, can affect our individual and collective well-being in an astounding variety of ways.

Dental caries is a communicable disease to which all ages are susceptible. Dental caries occur when bacteria residing in plaque, which has developed on tooth surfaces, convert carbohydrates to acidic by-products. The result is a lower local pH which causes, over extended periods, the leeching of important minerals from the tooth and subsequent collapse of the enamel substructure known as cavities.

Dental caries causes pain and discomfort that affects nutrition, communication, socialization and sleeping, all of which affect our overall health and well-being. Additionally, dental caries can result in absence from work and school, leading to reduced income and lower academic performance.

In children, particularly, caries can lead to psychological, learning and self-esteem difficulties that severely impact their social development. Finally, dental caries can lead to infection and abscess formation that can be life-threatening.

In adults, gum disease is associated with other chronic inflammation diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. In a recent study, individuals with serious gum disease were 40 percent more likely to have another chronic medical condition as well.

There is also a possible association between periodontitis and bacterial pneumonia, stroke, preterm birth and low birth weight, and pancreatic cancer.

The Fresno County Department of Public Health, Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission, and Reading and Beyond, are working together to provide youths in Fresno County with dental services. If you are on Medi-Cal and would like to schedule an initial or follow-up appointment for your child, please call 844-421-3484. Services are available throughout Fresno County.

As your Fresno County health officer, I urge you to protect your health and well-being by:

▪  Brushing at least twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush.

▪  Flossing at least once a day.

▪  Reducing your consumption of sugary drinks.

▪  Regularly visiting a dental provider for cleaning and examination (at least once a


▪  Modeling and teaching these habits to your children.