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What can you control about back to school? Make sure kids are keeping their preventive health check-ups.

By Jill Hamilton on September 3, 2020 in Healthy Living


Across the country, the usual excitement and activities around the back to school timeframe look a lot different in 2020 due to COVID-19. Here in Iowa, it looks even stranger due to the epic derecho storm that left 10 million acres of crops flattened and led to a disaster recovery request to FEMA for 27 counties. Some eastern Iowa schools received extensive damage or are without power, which will push back the start of school even further. With all of this in mind, what are parents most concerned about for their kids?

In a recent back to school survey by Deloitte, only 43% of parents felt the education of this spring’s online learning period prepared children for the next grade. Additionally, 66% of parents are anxious about sending their kids to school this fall because of COVID-19. When asked about concerns about health versus finances, 43% of parents felt more concern about health than finances, while 33% felt equal concern about health and finances. With all of this in mind, this is a time to focus on what we can control instead of the various things we cannot control.

One important way to maintain some semblance of normalcy is to make sure you have scheduled your back to school physicals or wellness checks, eye and dental appointments. Even though our regular activities may have changed, it’s important to try to keep those preventive care appointments to avoid controllable issues in the future.

School physicals or wellness checks: By now your school district has likely communicated what immunizations and required assessments are needed based on your child’s age or grade. If you’ve put off these checkups due to uncertainty about school or concerns about going to a medical clinic, wait no longer. Regardless of how your child’s school year plays out, it’s still recommended to proceed with annual checkups. Most insurance plans including Medicaid and Hawki cover annual wellness checkups at no cost. A comprehensive health screening assesses a child’s overall health including growth patterns, updating immunizations, and nutritional and safety assessments. This is a good time to ask questions, chart progress and discuss changes your child may encounter in the upcoming year. Additionally, Iowa schools require any students in grades 7 – 12 participating in sports to have an annual pre-participation physical examination

Dental appointments: If your child was due for a checkup during the initial months of the pandemic, call now to schedule their appointment. Maintaining your twice a year dental screening can identify potential issues and ensure your child doesn’t miss unnecessary hours in school (online or in person) and you don’t miss work due to dental emergencies.

Dentists have made significant investments in new technology and personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure that your visit is as safe as possible for both the patient and the dental office staff. Plan to have you and your child wear a mask to the appointment. You should expect that your child will have their temperature taken upon entering the office. The waiting room will likely be set up for social distancing or the dental office may have you wait in your car until they are ready to limit the number of people in the office.

Children entering kindergarten and ninth grade in Iowa schools are required to have a dental screening. The Iowa Department of Public Health Certificate of Dental Screening form must be completed and signed. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), tooth decay is the single most common infectious disease affecting U.S. children.

“Dentists in Iowa report that they are getting caught up from their backlogged appointments so now is a great time to schedule an appointment,” said Dr. Jeffrey Chaffin, chief dental officer, Delta Dental of Iowa. “This is a good opportunity to have dental sealants applied and to determine if there are any issues with your child’s oral health. If your child is active in contact sports, ask your dentist about custom-fitted mouth guards.”

Eye appointments: Adults and children alike have likely increased screen time enormously over the last five months, so your annual or bi-annual eye care appointment is one you don’t want to miss. During the pandemic, Zoom sessions sky rocketed to more than 300 million sessions per day and that’s both professional and educational usage. A study conducted in late April showed 85% of parents were concerned about their kids’ amount of screen time.

“While the state of Iowa requires an eye exam before Kindergarten and again before third grade, it’s a good practice to schedule an eye exam every one to two years, especially for kids and especially during this period of increased screen time,” said Dr. Chad Overman, vision benefits director, DeltaVision. “Prepare to wear a mask and potentially wait in your car until the eye doctor is ready for you. During your child’s eye exam, ask questions about eye protection for sports and how to avoid or mitigate screen time strain, as well as relaying any issues your child is having with their vision.”

The Iowa Department of Public Health requires that children have a vision screening at least once before Kindergarten and again before third grade. The IDPH Certificate of Vision Screening lists the timeline for valid screening.

While 2020 might seem like the year of uncontrollable catastrophes, we encourage Iowans to focus on what we can control. Ensuring kids are receiving preventive health care can reduce or eliminate stresses about “what if” scenarios regarding their health and prepare them for what could be an interesting 2020-2021 school year.