Health-care discount program focuses on students' return to school

Aug. 17, 2006
Vision, dental check-ups open eyes, brighten smiles for learning.

NORWALK, Connecticut--It's back-to-school across America, and it's time to focus on ways to open students' eyes and brighten their smiles for learning success. 

As the school bell is set to ring--and with one in four children having undiagnosed vision problems and tooth decay one of the most common childhood diseases--now is the time to give students a clear vision for their future. Also, make sure preschoolers have the recommended immunizations and vaccinations.

HealthSaver, an emerging health-care discount program, recommends that in addition to new school supplies, backpacks and trendy clothes, it's a good idea for students to undergo a comprehensive vision exam, dental checkup and required immunizations.

"Early vision testing and proper oral hygiene are great ways to start the school year off on the right foot," said HealthSaver Vice President Lorien Saumier. "A complete and comprehensive eye and dental exam can spell greater success in the classroom."

This year alone, 10 million children will return to school with a vision problem that could interfere with their learning ability, contribute to disciplinary problems and put them at risk for permanent vision loss, according to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development. 

The group also warns that when vision problems go undetected, students have trouble reading and doing schoolwork, and they often display fatigue, fidgeting, and frustration in the classroom. An estimated 70 percent of school-age children who have a learning disability in reading have some sort of visual problem, according to COVD. 

And despite recent improvements in dental care in the United States, tooth decay is still one of the most common childhood diseases, according to the American Dental Association. It is five times as common as asthma in 5-17 year-olds, according to the association. 

And, it affects more than one fifth of American children aged 2-4, half of those aged 6-8 and nearly 60 percent of those aged 15, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Since 1995, August has been National Children's Vision and Learning Month, and the goal of this national observance is to help educate parents and teachers across the country about the critical link between vision and learning. 

With that in mind, the experts at HealthSaver and the COVD have developed a checklist for common signs and symptoms of vision problems that may indicate the need for a comprehensive vision exam:

Physical signs or symptoms:
*Frequent headaches or eye strain
*Blurring of distance or near vision, particularly after reading or other close work
*Avoidance of close work or other visually demanding tasks
*Poor judgment of depth
*Turning of an eye in or out, up or down
*Double vision
*Poor hand-eye coordination
*Difficulty following a moving target
*Dizziness or motion sickness

Performance problems:

*Poor reading comprehension
*Difficulty copying from one place to another
*Loss of place, repetition, and/or omission of words while reading
*Difficulty changing focus from distance to near and back
*Poor posture when reading or writing
*Poor handwriting
*Can respond orally but can't get the same information down on paper
*Letter and word reversals
*Difficulty judging sizes and shapes

And brush-up on dental hygiene with these tips from the HealthSaver, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association:

*A Good Cleaning. Your child may think they're old enough to brush their own teeth, but until they reach the age of six, make sure to take command and brush their teeth for them at least twice a day, using a pea-sized amount of ADA-approved toothpaste. Make sure older children brush at least twice a day, too.

*Visit your Dentist. Visit a dentist as soon as your baby's first tooth appears and no later than age one. Book routine visits for professional cleanings and check-ups as recommended by your child's dentist.

*Drink Fluoridated Water. Water fluoridation can prevent up to 40 percent of tooth decay. Drinking water with fluoride is still the easiest and most effective way to fight tooth decay.

*Don't Forget in Between. A toothbrush can't get into every nook and cranny so it's important for parents to floss their child's teeth.

*Eat Well. Make sure your child eats a balanced diet, stays hydrated, and seeks healthy options for between-meal snacks. Do not put your child to bed with a bottle containing anything but water, and encourage use of a cup as their first birthday approaches.