Learning What Works for School-Based Dental Health Programs

School-based dental health programs are an evidence-based, effective, and inexpensive approach to improving children’s dental health and promoting health equity.

Low-income children and children of color in Oregon experience disproportionate rates of tooth decay and get less care, with long-lasting consequences. These children are twice as likely to have untreated tooth decay as their higher-income peers and are far less likely to see a dentist. There are many reasons that children go without dental care, including systemic barriers like geographic isolation, cost, and lack of transportation.

To address the need, school-based dental health programs have expanded significantly in Oregon over the past decade.

School-based dental health programs provide dental screenings, sealants, fluoride and oral health education. These programs reduce dental pain and suffering and are a highly effective way to reduce states’ oral health costs. A single $53 sealant can reduce decay in permanent molars by 80% in the first two years after application, and cost savings can be as high as $487 per averted cavity.

In 2014, OCF declared children’s dental health a strategic priority and launched the Oregon Children’s Dental Health Initiative, supporting local school-based dental health program development, expansion and improvement. OCF’s board of directors committed $1.62 million for school-based grants, and funding partners contributed an additional $1.6 million. Donors to OCF advised funds donated an additional $155,000.