February 01, 2020
Taking Our Dental Health Message to the Capitol
Melissa Freeman, MPH
Director, Strategic Projects
Imagine you were six years old and your teeth hurt so badly you couldn’t concentrate in school. One in five Oregon children have untreated cavities.1 Cavities are painful and they are hidden. They keep kids from eating, sleeping and smiling. If left untreated early on, cavities may manifest in the form of expensive Emergency Department visits and increased risk for diseases later in life.2
OCF has been working in partnership with other funders to raise awareness of this common chronic disease for the past five years. We have invested over $3M in school-based dental health programs to ensure kids have access to preventive dental services where they are—in school.
School-based dental programs provide the oral health education, hygiene supplies, screenings, sealants, referrals to care and navigation to treatment that kids need. With grant funding and partnerships with dental providers, school-based dental programs serve elementary and middle schools in 22 Oregon counties. However, these programs are at risk of going away without support from the state.
This month, we’re taking our message to the Oregon Capitol during the short legislative session. We formed a coalition and drafted a bill to make sure oral health is a priority for healthcare and education leaders statewide. Our House Bill 4127 has garnered bipartisan support from 26 legislators to date. Our campaign is called Healthy Teeth, Bright Futures and you can learn more here: healthyteethoregon.org.
We’re calling on Oregon leaders to make sure oral health education is included in the K-12 public education curricula and that costs for providing services at schools can be billed to Medicaid or other sources. Delivering preventive dental services to kids in schools is a cost-effective, efficient and equitable way to ensure all kids have access to basic care. But it takes coordination. Someone must be the liaison between the school staff, dental providers and families to maximize student participation in the program and make it an efficient use of time at the school. These program coordinators are critical and must be included as part of Oregon’s dental care delivery system. Dental hygienists can provide the care and make referrals, but it is the program coordinators that help kids and families navigate the system and get in to see a dentist when urgent needs arise.
After over a decade of working to improve access to dental care for Oregon’s children, we are excited to now have a strong coalition that understands the connection between a child’s oral health and their overall success in life. Our bill is an important step, but there will be more work to do. You can support our efforts by donating to the Children’s Dental Health Initiative Fund at OCF or following our campaign at healthyteethoregon.org.
- Oregon Smile Survey 2012: https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/PREVENTIONWELLNESS/ORALHEALTH/Documents/SmileSurvey2012.pdf
- Kushner J and Renfro S. Dental Care for Oregon’s Medicaid-Enrolled Children in 2018. Center for Health Systems Effectiveness, Oregon Health & Science University; 2020.