Children's Dental Health Initiative

Oregon has one of the country’s highest rates of childhood dental disease, which is the most common chronic disease affecting U.S. children. Dental pain caused by tooth decay is one of the main reasons elementary students miss school. These absences impact their academic achievement and path to success.

The causes of this preventable epidemic include limited access to community water fluoridation, inadequate education, economic hardship and lack of dental insurance and dental care. If left untreated, dental disease can be devastating to children’s health, educational success, productivity, self-image and future potential.

Furthermore, current medical research indicates that dental disease can play a significant role in many other medical conditions, including heart disease and diabetes. As statewide dental director Dr. Bruce Austin explains, “There's such a connection between decreasing oral inflammation and overall health. It greatly improves overall health."

Preventing tooth decay isn’t just good medical practice; it also makes good economic sense. The CDC estimates that every dollar spent annually on water fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment costs. The cost of effective early intervention is negligible compared to the social and economic costs of widespread, untreated dental disease.

“I’ve told the team I used to work with in a third world country as a volunteer dentist that I need to stay here and take care of the children in my own backyard. 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 launched a five-year Children's Dental Health Initiative in 2014, which built on our Regional Action Initiative project in the Southern Willamette Valley as well as the South Coast Ready to Smile program, a comprehensive school-based dental program in Coos and Curry counties. Through this initiative, OCF and partners work together to solve 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 initiative has three primary aims:

  • Educating and engaging OCF donors, volunteers, grantees and partners to raise awareness of this problem
  • Funding community-based prevention and education services throughout Oregon
  • Providing statewide leadership and advocacy on evidence-based prevention strategies, as well as infrastructure and workforce policies

Priorities include 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

OCF, The Collins Foundation, The Ford Family Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Meyer Memorial Trust, Northwest Health Foundation, Providence Health & Services and A-dec provided multiyear awards to 15 organizations in Oregon to support the coordination of comprehensive school-based dental programs. $2,905,796 was awarded 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
  • Mercy Foundation - Healthy Kids Outreach Program
  • North Clackamas School District
  • One Community Health (Hood River)
  • Providence Seaside Hospital Foundation
  • Salem-Keizer School District
  • South Lane Children's Dental Clinic
  • Tillamook Education Foundation
  • Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Foundation
  • White Bird Dental Clinic (Eugene)

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 and address the urgent statewide need for early intervention.

Get Involved

Funders and other organizations that would like to partner with OCF are encouraged to contact:


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

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