Back to School: Advancing Oral Health in the Classroom
By Ralph Fuccillo, MA, President, DentaQuest Foundation
It’s that time of year again – the time when kids all across our country head back to school for another year of learning, growth and development. But, did you know that the classroom is also a crucial point of connection, education and even treatment when it comes to oral health?
If you are a parent, you can attest that you always have your child’s health and wellbeing on your mind, particularly in an age where fast food, lack of exercise and other issues plague the next generation. For kids, tooth decay is actually the most common childhood disease, more common than asthma. Each year, children across the United States lose approximately 52 million school hours due to dental disease. Unfortunately, this impacts low-income children disproportionately, as they face more barriers to getting much-needed, preventive dental care. It’s sometimes a challenge to find a provider that accepts their insurance, and if they are able to secure an appointment, they may have trouble getting transportation to and from the office, and their parents may not be able to take the time off from work to get them there. To drive this home, kids from low-income families have twice the untreated tooth decay compared to their higher-income counterparts.
Schools are a practical and cost-effective place and time to reach children, teach them about healthy habits and even ensure they receive the preventive oral care they need. In addition to education on healthy personal dental care, school-based oral health programs can provide a range of services from screenings to sealants to fluoride treatments. To illustrate the potential of these programs, according to a recent issue brief from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services’ (CMS) Oral Health Initiative, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that over half of kids’ tooth decay could be prevented if half of those high-risk children participated in school sealant programs.
Think of the potential! This is why one of our Oral Health 2020 goals is centered on this important, cost-effective initiative. By 2020, we strive to have oral health education and services incorporated into the curriculum and offerings of the 10 largest school districts in the country.
To make this goal a reality, we partnered with Oral Health Colorado to develop a toolkit for local communities. The recently-launched, free Smart Mouths Smart Kids (SMSK) toolkit is available to help communities assess need for such a program in their local schools, measure feasibility of program administration and create a program that is sustainable for years to come. Its development took into account best practices and key learnings from our work to provide local stakeholders with the tools they need to make oral health a priority in local schools.
From engaging appropriate partners to understanding reimbursement methodology and building a sustainable business plan, this toolkit has everything a community needs to get started with implementing school-based oral health care – along with support at every step of the way – to help bring dental care and education to the next generation. While the toolkit is focused on Colorado communities, it’s a model that can be scaled and tailored to states across the country. We encourage you to take a look and share with school administrators, local government leaders, and teachers, and empower your community to bring good oral health back to school this fall.