As summer is coming to an end and the school year is beginning, parents may be thinking about steps they can take to protect their child’s health this academic year.
Published: September 3, 2022
By: Anna Jones, Hannah Echols and Brianna Hoge of UAB
Experts from the University of Alabama at Birmingham are here to help with their recommendations for four appointments parents should get their child to this summer.
Before going back to school, David Kimberlin, M.D., co-director of UAB and Children’s of Alabama’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, recommends children visit their pediatrician or family practice physician for their annual checkup appointment.
“All school-age children should have annual examinations by their pediatrician,” Kimberlin says. “The assessment is comprehensive and addresses both physical and mental health.”
During these pediatric visits, doctors can help determine whether children are healthy and developing as they should be. They also help health care providers catch any problems early, when they may be easier to treat. Parents will also have a chance to ask any questions they may have about their child’s behavior or development.
To help keep children healthy throughout the school year, Kimberlin strongly suggests children who meet the age requirement — currently 6 months and older — get a COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to their usual childhood and adolescent vaccines, which are discussed below.
A back-to-school dental appointment enables pediatric dentists to detect dental problems early. With early detection, they can administer the appropriate treatment immediately to help prevent more complications. It is recommended that children have their first dental visit by age 1; but if they have not established a dental home before they start school, summertime is a good time to start.
“It is best for a child to have a dental home that they routinely see at least two times a year,” says Stephen Mitchell, M.S., DMD, associate professor in UAB’s School of Dentistry. “If a child has not seen a dentist or has not seen one in several years, we recommend scheduling a visit to make sure they are not having any dental problems that may cause discomfort and distract them from learning while they are at school.”
Mitchell says diet is crucial to maintaining a child’s oral health and encourages parents to reduce the amount of sugary foods and beverages children consume throughout the school year. He recommends replacing sugary drinks with water, plain milk, or any beverage that has 10 or fewer calories per serving.
“We want to take precautions to prevent tooth decay from happening, but that does not mean removing all sugary drinks and foods from their diets,” Mitchell says. “When fun events or special occasions come around like a birthday party or Halloween, let them enjoy themselves and have fun. After the event is over, parents can help them get back to their daily routine.”
For children who may be skeptical about dental visits, Mitchell says it is best to avoid making a big deal out of it. To help prepare them for a visit, parents can show their child videos of siblings, parents or other children going to the dentist to help them better understand what to expect during an appointment.
“As for nervous children, often the more information you give them, the more time they are given to prepare and the more nervous they become,” Mitchell says. “Wait until a little closer to appointment time to tell them, then act as carefree about it as possible. Usually, kids react to their parents’ emotions, so if they see their parents are calm about it, then they are more likely to be calm as well.”
Cleaning visits are a simple way to make a child’s teeth look and feel great and help prevent problems from occurring during the year. By practicing some of these tips, parents can help make each visit fun and easy.
Having an eye exam at the beginning of the school year is a great way to make sure vision problems will not prohibit any learning in the classroom.
“Vision screenings are very good at determining if a child can see the board at the front of a classroom,” says Tamara Oechslin, O.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB School of Optometry. “A comprehensive eye exam will also look for the ability to see well up close and measure how well the two eyes work as a team and track together, which is especially important for children who are learning to read and reading to learn.”
Throughout the school year, Oechslin suggests parents keep an eye out for these behaviors, as they could be signs that a child may need a vision exam:
- Watery eyes or dryness
- Complaints of headaches
- Covering an eye when reading/doing near work
“Young children’s eyes are growing and changing quickly, and it is best to make sure all is happening appropriately and that our children’s eyes are healthy,” Oechslin says.
To help prevent children from contracting vaccine-preventable diseases, experts recommend that parents keep their children up to date on recommended vaccines for their age group.
“Vaccines help provide immunity before children are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases,” says Erin Delaney, M.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Family and Community Medicine and clinic medical director for the Family Medicine Clinic at UAB Hospital-Highlands. “By getting your child vaccinated, not only are you protecting them from sickness, but you are also protecting classmates, friends, relatives and others in the community.”
Immunizations are the best defense against preventing the spread of disease and ensuring the best immune response for children. Vaccines help teach a child’s immune system to recognize a virus or bacteria before being exposed, so that when they come in contact with that virus or bacteria in the future, their immune system fights it off without the person getting sick.
“When it comes to vaccine safety, there is plenty of evidence and information available that proves their safety, and there is a lack of information that shows otherwise,” sayxs Sameera Davuluri, M.D., clinic medical director at UAB’s Hoover Primary Clinic and assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. “When we treat patients in our office, our treatment recommendations are based on scientific evidence. The same thing goes when it comes to vaccines. We recommend vaccines for our patients based on scientific evidence.”
For children who may be slightly nervous about getting their vaccines, Delaney and Davuluri say a parent’s display of support is very important. They encourage parents to take time and explain to children how vaccines protect them from something that could hurt them and to reward them with something they enjoy after they have received their vaccines.
For a list of the vaccines by age group recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, click here. (www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/child/0-18yrs-child-combined-schedule.pdf). To make an immunization appointment, contact your child’s local health care provider or county health department.