Summer dental checkups can prevent school absence, lower grades

Dr. Cervantes demonstrates proper tooth brushing to a pediatric patient using a dinosaur puppet.
Maria Jose Cervantes-Mendez, DDS, MS, demonstrates proper toothbrushing to a pediatric patient.


With the summer break kicking off exciting plans, it’s easy to put off that back-to-school checklist for later. However, parents and guardians might consider crossing one item off early: scheduling your child’s summer dental appointment.

Maria Jose Cervantes-Mendez, DDS, MS

When school resumes in the fall, children will be three times more likely to miss school days and four times more likely to have a low grade point average due to dental-related pain than any other illness.

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

The cost of delaying care

Cervantes’ statements are backed by the National Institutes of Health and the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation, which stated emergency pediatric dental care cost up to $1.6 billion in 2012. That startling number revealed that children receive more costly urgent dental care rather than affordable preventative care, costing families more than just time and money.

Micaela B. Gibbs, DDS, MHA

“Dental cavities in children can have serious long-term effects on their overall health and quality of life,” said UT Dentistry Chief Dental Officer Micaela B. Gibbs, DDS, MHA. “The inability to eat can cause malnutrition and underdevelopment, and pain from dental disease impairs a child’s ability to sleep and learn. The stigma of poor oral health impacts self-esteem and socialization. All these collectively have long-term consequences that last into adulthood. ”


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

  • Nutrition.

While many families know what a healthy balanced diet includes, rising costs combined with a lack of nutritious foods readily available force the consumption of a carbohydrate-heavy diet, such as rice, potatoes, beans and bread. As carbohydrate particles become stuck between teeth after eating and drinking, they turn into sugar, the preferred food source for bacteria living in the mouth.

  • Access to care.

Significant barriers exist for many families when attempting to receive dental care. The high cost of dental treatment, lack of insurance coverage, an insufficient number of Medicaid providers, language barriers and geographical challenges all provide obstacles for well-intentioned families. For many cultures, a lack of experience with dentistry or not understanding its importance also contributes to hesitancy in seeking care.

Low-cost care is available

South Texas families can rest easy because low-cost, high-quality care is available close to home.

The Ricardo Salinas Pediatric Dental Clinic in San Antonio and the Laredo Health Department Dental Clinic offer patients specialty care at a manageable cost. Each clinic employs a bilingual staff, accepts patients with Medicaid, offers pediatric services on a sliding fee scale and is managed by board-certified pediatric dental faculty.

“We are incredibly proud of the exceptional care we offer at our two community clinics,” said Gibbs. “Patients will never experience lower quality care just because of reduced service cost.”

“Appointments are available,” said Cervantes. “A dental issue should be the last thing on our children’s mind while at school and we can help ensure that.”

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

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