In November, we announced that Arth Patel, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Dentistry, won our first $5,000 scholarship for his winning essay on how dental health contributes to the wellbeing of children and families. Now, you can read his essay for yourself! See it below:
How can dental health contribute to the well-being of families and children?
Teeth – those little things in your mouth that many of us take for granted. When you think about them, you may think of the many things they allow us to do, such as eat, speak, and smile at one another. However, our teeth play a much larger role in our lives than these seemingly mundane functions. Our teeth and our general oral health can not only play major roles in our day to day relations with other people, but can also impact the way we view ourselves and our ultimate likelihood of achieving our goals and attaining success.
How can such little collections of enamel and tissue play such a big role in our lives? Well, it all begins at a very young age. Typically, children have grown their primary set of teeth by the time they reach age three. From here, it becomes critical to establish habits of proper dental care to protect a child’s young teeth from harmful plaque and disease. Even more important is establishing these habits so that they may carry over to adolescence and adulthood, when the individual will have developed his or her permanent set of teeth, which cannot be naturally repaired once damaged or lost. Unfortunately, however, this is too often not the case. Though we are fortunate to live in a society where means of oral healthcare are available to nearly everyone, insufficient education and berating advertisements for sugary drinks and snacks has led many children to suffer significant issues regarding their oral health by the time they reach high school, and some even earlier.
While some may read this and cringe at the thought of high dental bills and frequent appointments, the impact goes far deeper than that. Research has shown that students who have poor oral hygiene are far more likely than their peers to both miss school frequently and perform poorly for reasons regarding their dental health. In addition, students who suffer from oral health issues are likely to develop a negative self-image, and may be self-conscious of their appearance around others. One of the reasons I feel so strongly about this topic is because I have experienced this aspect of oral health first hand in my sister. Growing up, she was one to frequent the cookie jar, yet never the toothbrush. Since then, she has suffered from a variety of issues that has resulted in her becoming extremely self- conscious. In recent years, it has reached the extent where she will often refuse to smile in photos and will try to avoid exposing her teeth to strangers. Knowing the impact that this can have on a child, I would not wish it one anyone.
What is more, the impacts of poor oral health extend even into adulthood, and in fact only worsen. Research has shown that poor oral health or missing teeth can cause otherwise qualified candidates to be rejected for job opportunities. Low socioeconomic status, which could easily result from unemployment, is a key indicator of the likelihood of a child to have dental health issues, so this only perpetuates the issue. Adding to the concerns of these individuals is that, if their conditions go uncared for, they could begin to interfere with the basic functions mentioned before, including eating, speaking, and even breathing.
Given this evidence, I believe there should be no doubt in society that quality dental health is a fundamental factor affecting the lives of everyone. Not only does it directly impact the overall health of an individual, but can play a negative role regarding their self-esteem, socioeconomic status, and their overall success. We must continue to educate youth and prioritize oral health care within our society to help ensure everyone has access to the life they deserve.