e-mail Print Share

Oral Health Assessments for School Children

Several states have instituted policies aimed at identifying children at risk for dental disease by mandating oral health assessments for kids in public schools. In 2006, the California Dental Association (CDA) sponsored legislation that requires that children have a dental health assessment by the end of their first year in public school, either kindergarten or first grade. The law considers the requirement met if a child has had such an assessment in the prior 12 months. Parents who cannot secure a dental assessment for their child can apply in writing for a waiver.

Following passage of the law, the California Dental Association conducted a major outreach campaign in several languages to educate parents about the new requirement. The CDA also reached out to its member dentists to secure the greatest possible support for this initiative from the profession. The ADA produced and distributed this video to help assist the CDA in its efforts.

Dental disease is almost entirely preventable or, when it is detected early, can be cured quickly and cost-effectively. Other states, including New York and Massachusetts, have programs similar to California's, in which at-risk children are identified and referred for treatment. School-based health programs are critical to protecting children from oral disease. In some cases these programs include full-fledged dental exams, oral health education to teach children how to care properly for their teeth and gums, preventive treatments such dental sealants and fluoride varnishes, and even restorative care. These programs are proven to work, but there are too few of them, and those that exist are at constant risk of funding cuts. Schools, especially those that serve low-income families or are in dentally underserved areas, are an obvious place to provide proven, low-cost preventive services to those children most at risk for dental disease. The ADA is committed to working at the federal and state levels to increase the delivery of dental services to school children in ways that prevent disease or catch it early, and to helping place every child who needs one in a dental home.

Read more about school-based oral health programs and their place in the nation's oral health safety net (PDF).