Children's Dental Health Initiative

Healthy teeth are essential for children’s development and well-being. Although it is fully preventable, tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases for children. Tooth decay can inhibit a child’s ability to speak, learn and grow, and when untreated, can lead to serious and even life-threatening complications.

While Oregon has seen improvements on many oral health measures in recent years, disparities remain. Children in low-income families, children in rural areas and children of color experience higher rates of tooth decay and are less likely to receive the care they need. In Oregon, 63% of children in low-income households have tooth decay, compared to 38% of children in higher-income households.[1] Children of color have higher rates of tooth decay than white children[2] and are half as likely to receive necessary treatment.[3]

Health disparities widen gaps in achievement and opportunity.[4] Children with poor oral health miss more school days and receive lower grades than their peers.[5] Because the burden of oral disease falls disproportionately on historically underserved communities, it can exacerbate existing gaps in opportunity and achievement.

Prevention efforts, including water fluoridation and school-based dental health programs, prevent pain and suffering, promote health equity and make good economic sense. According to the CDC, every dollar spent on water fluoridation saves $32 in costs for tooth decay treatment.[6] School-based dental health programs, which provide dental screenings, sealants, fluoride and education create cost savings to Medicaid and society within two years.[7] A program that serves 1,000 children can prevent 485 dental fillings each year,[8] and a single $53 sealant represents as much as $487 in savings per averted cavity.[9]

“The need here is just as great as anything I’ve seen in the developing countries where I’ve provided volunteer dentistry.”

Dr. Park McClung
Cottage Grove

OCF's Role

To address this crisis, OCF declared children’s dental health a strategic priority and launched the Children's Dental Health Initiative in 2014. Through this initiative, OCF and partners work together to address the systemic problems that prevent Oregon children from accessing timely, age-appropriate dental services, including cultural barriers, lack of insurance, and the shortage of providers in rural communities. The first phase of the initiative had three primary aims:

  • Educate and engage OCF donors, volunteers, grantees and partners to raise awareness of children’s dental disease.
  • Fund community-based prevention and education services throughout Oregon.
  • Provide statewide leadership and advocacy on evidence-based prevention strategies, as well as infrastructure and workforce policies.

Initiative priorities also included training primary care providers and parenting educators on oral disease prevention, expanding school-based dental health promotion programs, supporting legislation that will improve oral health for all children in Oregon, and funding necessary research to strengthen the rationale for policy changes.

Funding for School-Based Dental Programs

Together, OCF pooled resources with our funding partners including, A-dec, The Collins Foundation, The Ford Family Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Meyer Memorial Trust, Northwest Health Foundation, Providence Health & Services, awarding nearly $3 million in grants through the Initiative to the following programs over five years:

  • Community Health Clinics of Benton and Linn Counties
  • Eastern Oregon Healthy Living Alliance
  • Intermountain Education Service District (Pendleton)
  • Kemple Clinic (Bend)
  • La Clinica (Medford)
  • Lake Health District (Lakeview)
  • Mercy Foundation - Healthy Kids Outreach Program (Roseburg)
  • North Clackamas School District
  • One Community Health (Hood River)
  • Providence Seaside Hospital Foundation
  • Salem-Keizer School District
  • South Lane Children's Dental Clinic (Cottage Grove)
  • Tillamook Education Foundation
  • Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Foundation
  • White Bird Dental Clinic (Eugene)


Today, OCF is leading the Pediatric Oral Health Coalition, a diverse group of dental health stakeholders to develop policy approaches and tools to improve integration of oral health into Oregon’s healthcare delivery system. In partnership with the Coalition, OCF is advocating for stronger leadership at the state for oral health, trying to pass legislation this upcoming Session to require oral health education curriculum is provided in K-12 public schools, and working to communicate about the importance of oral health for overall health to the public through a campaign called Healthy Teeth Bright Futures. Learn more about the effort and the organizations participating in the Coalition by visiting the Healthy Teeth Bright Futures website.

Oral Health Funders Collaborative

OCF joined with several other funding organizations to establish the Oral Health Funders Collaborative of Oregon and SW Washington in September 2011 to address the urgent statewide need for better oral health across the lifespan. Members are still actively meeting and identifying ways to improve oral health in the region.

Get Involved

Funders and other organizations that would like to partner with OCF are encouraged to contact Megan Loeb at mloeb@oregoncf.org or (503) 227-6846.


The OCF research team has developed several reports as part of the evaluation of the Initiative:

Other important resources include:

Contribute to the Children's Dental Health Initiative, and join us in promoting education, prevention and dental treatment services for children throughout Oregon. 

Donate Now

[1] Center for Disease Control. (2016). National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey [Data].

[2] Oregon Health Authority. (n.d.) Oregon Smile & Healthy Growth Survey 2017 [report summary].

[3] Oregon Health Authority. (2013). Oregon Healthy Growth and Smile Survey: 2012 Report.

[4] Jackson, S.L., Vann, W.F., Kotch, J.B., Pahel, B.T., & Lee, J.Y. (2011). Impact of poor oral health on children’s school attendance and performance. American Journal of Public Health, 101, 1900–6.

[5] Basch, C. (2011). Healthier Students are Better Learners: A Missing Link in School Reforms to Close the Achievement Gap. Journal of School Health, 81, 593-598.

[6] O’Connell JM, Rockwell J, Ouellet J, Tomar SL, Maas W. (2016). Costs and Savings Associated with Community Water Fluoridation in the United States. Health Affairs. 1;35(12):2224-2232.

[7] Truman, B.I., Gooch, B.F. & Sulemana, I. (2002). Reviews of evidence on interventions to prevent dental caries, oral and pharyngeal cancers, and sports-related craniofacial injuries. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 23, 21–54.

[8] MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. (October 2016). Decay Among UNITED STATES School-Aged Children. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6541e1

[9] Truman, B.I., Gooch, B.F. & Sulemana, I. (2002). Reviews of evidence on interventions to prevent dental caries, oral and pharyngeal cancers, and sports-related craniofacial injuries. American Journal of Preventive