As the end of summer nears, back-to-school rituals begin and questions arise: Which vaccinations do kids need? How can you get them into a routine with homework? How can you handle the move to a new school? What are easy ways to ensure they eat smart? Find expert answers for these questions and more here at UAB News.
For sports fans, the crunch of helmets as players tangle for a loose football, the swoosh of the net as an outside jumper is made and the crack of the bat as a guaranteed double sails into right center field are all beautiful sounds. For dentists, they’re reminders that young athletes are just one misstep away from a mouth injury.
“Kids playing all sports, not just contact sports like football, are at risk for a dental injury,” says Stephen Mitchell, D.M.D., associate professor in the UAB Department of Pediatric Dentistry. “Though non-contact sports, basketball and baseball are the two biggest sports from which we see mouth injuries.”
According to a report by the U.S. Surgeon General, craniofacial injuries sustained during sporting activities are a major source of nonfatal injury and disability in children and adults, accounting for up to one-third of all sports injuries. The National Youth Sports Safety Foundation estimates that more than 3 million teeth will be knocked out in youth sporting activities this year.
Parents should understand the risks of sports-related dental injuries and have children use additional protective gear as appropriate, Mitchell says. The number-one piece of necessary protection equipment: a mouth guard.
As the new school year approaches, parents have to decide what their children will eat for lunch. Should they help the kids brown bag it or remember to take their lunch money? While this might not seem to be a major issue, it is – because the importance of school lunch rises with the rates of childhood obesity, say University of Alabama at Birmingham experts.
The number of obese children and teens in the United States has risen during the past two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of 2010, about 17 percent of kids ages 2-19 were considered obese, meaning they have a body-mass index at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex. The CDC says that makes them susceptible to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea and social discrimination.
“For many, childhood obesity extends into adulthood where these disorders have more impact on their health, so starting early is the key to prevention,” says Stephenie Wallace, M.D., UAB assistant professor of pediatrics and medical director for the Children’s Clinic for Weight Management at Children’s Hospital (CCWM).
The CCWM is an interdisciplinary clinic for children whose efforts to work with their physicians on weight loss have not been successful; there, Wallace treats children who are at risk for heart problems caused by high cholesterol levels and hypertension.
“School meals can be a big part of the nutrition many children receive during the week,” Wallace says. “Making both school breakfast and lunch meals healthier is one component to preventing obesity, heart disease and diabetes in children.”
So what should kids be eating?
Summer break is almost over, and parents are registering for school, buying supplies and clothes and taking kids for vaccines and eye exams. But many tend to overlook oral health, says a University of Alabama at Birmingham pediatric dentist.
“A dental check-up is important — and not just so kids’ teeth are pretty and white,” says Stephen C. Mitchell, D.M.D., associate professor in the UAB School of Dentistry. “On average, 22 percent of children have cavities that go untreated, and more than 1 million school days are lost each year because of tooth pain.
“Imagine trying to sit and focus on an algebra problem while you’ve got a toothache. You know you can’t concentrate on anything but the throbbing,” Mitchell says.
During a routine cleaning, dentists can check for cavities and any other signs of sickness or poor health in a child’s teeth or gums. Don’t let fears about out-of-pocket costs make you skip the dentist, Mitchell says; that could make things worse.
Your preschooler has mastered the art of coloring inside the lines, can sit criss-cross applesauce for up to three minutes without being threatened and eat spaghetti without the aftermath looking like a crime scene.
They’re ready. It’s time for big kid school.
For many 5-year-olds across the country, kindergarten is right around the corner, and that’s exciting. But, the thought of getting a new teacher, travelling down foreign hallways and riding a school bus also can stir up anxiety in some tykes – and mommy and daddy, too.
With a proper plan in place, going to big kid school can be painless, says Linda Kay Emfinger, Ph.D., associate professor of early childhood education in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education.
Here are some tips she offers for readying your little fish diving into the big pond:
As you finalize your child’s back to school checklist — new clothes, new schedule, school supplies — make sure you haven’t forgotten their immunizations. Failing to have your child vaccinated could mean the difference between life and death, says a University of Alabama at Birmingham pediatric infectious disease specialist.
Sixteen diseases can be prevented by childhood vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: chickenpox (varicella), diphtheria, flu (influenza), Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), hepatitis A, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), measles, meningococcal, mumps, pneumococcal, polio, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis). In Alabama, the state board of health requires age-appropriate vaccinations for children prior to their entering grades K-12.
“These vaccines save children’s lives; parents interested in keeping their child alive should have them vaccinated,” says David Kimberlin, M.D., UAB professor of pediatrics and president-elect of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.
“At any given time, all of these vaccine-preventable diseases are at most 18 hours away,” Kimberlin says. “For example, one of the few remaining places where polio circulates is Afghanistan, and U.S. troops return home from there daily; anyone exposed could inadvertently pass polio to a child.”