Persistent pain, along with related trouble eating and sleeping, makes oral health one of the leading causes of chronic school absenteeism among young students. A full 20 percent of children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth. Among school-age children, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease, five times more prevalent than asthma. Children between 5 and 17 years miss nearly two million school days in a single year nationwide due to dental health-related problems.
This, in turn, can have a significant impact on students’ lifelong opportunity. For example, research shows that children who are chronically absent in both kindergarten and first grade are much less likely to be reading at grade level by the third grade; and students who are not reading at grade level by the third grade, in turn, are four times more likely to drop out of high school.
The tremendous scale of these consequences is especially poignant because dental health problems are so often preventable and easily treatable with access to primary dental care. Barriers related to cost, transportation, language and other logistics, however, have put this basic care out of reach for millions of U.S. children.