Supporting Student Oral Health

Oral health is critical at all stages of life, but most particularly during the growth and development of children and adolescents. Poor oral health can negatively affect a child’s nutritional status, quality of life, school attendance, educational achievements and emotional wellbeing. Access to routine oral health services results in better oral health. Districts can support students’ oral health by implementing an oral health screening program, dental sealant program or school-based dental clinic.

According to the Ohio Department of Health’s Oral Health Screening Survey of Third Grade School Children in Ohio, 2017-2018 nearly 50% of children screened had a history of tooth decay and the prevalence was higher among children in families with lower incomes and those from the Appalachian region. Ohio Healthy Student Profiles show that while 68% of students reported having an annual dental visit during the 2020-21 school year, only 40% of Medicaid students had a visit and the visit rate was even lower among Medicaid participating high school students (36.6%). To view school district or building Healthy Student Profiles, log onto the Ohio Healthy Student Profiles webpage.

This page provides schools and districts with resources to assist them in implementing and monitoring the oral health of their students. Schools and districts can utilize the Ohio Department of Health’s Selecting a School-Based Oral Health Care Program for Your School: Questions and Answers for School Staff tool to help assist them in selecting the right school-based dental program for their school community. 

Causes of Cavities or Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is one of the most common health conditions of childhood. Tooth decay or cavities occur when the bacteria found in plaque feed on the sugar in foods and beverages. Left untreated, tooth decay may destroy the entire tooth. Cavities can cause pain, difficulty eating or speaking. Children with tooth decay may experience anxiety, depression or withdrawal from normal activities due to either tooth pain or appearance of decaying teeth. 


Prevention is the key! The best way to ensure good oral health is to follow the six steps below:

  1. Routine dental visits,
  2. Brush and floss twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste,
  3. Apply dental sealants,
  4. Avoid drinks and food with added sugars,
  5. Encourage children and adolescents to eat more fruits and vegetables, and
  6. Drink tap water that contains fluoride.

Importance of Dental Sealants

Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth. Sealants cover the grooved areas of the teeth where food and bacteria can hide helping to protect the teeth from cavities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that sealants protect against 80% of cavities in the first two years and continue to prevent up to 50% of cavities for four years.

School Sealant Program

School-based sealant programs are an effective way to provide sealants and improve the oral health of students who are less likely to receive dental care at a private office. The Ohio Department of Health School-based Sealant Program targets schools where 40% or more of the students are eligible for the state’s Free and Reduced Price Meals Program. With parent permission, a team made up of a dental hygienist and a dental assistant place dental sealants on the permanent molars of 2nd and 6th grade students using portable dental equipment. After the student has been evaluated and treated by the School-based Sealant Team, a letter is sent home with the student informing the parent of the number of sealants placed and if the student needs dental treatment. Visit the Ohio Department of Health Preventing Oral Disease webpage for more details.

Access to Dental Care

Ideally all children would have access to dental care. However, a lack of providers in the area, no dental insurance, low oral health literacy and high costs are the most common reasons for limited or no oral health care. These issues have many families forgoing regular visits in favor of only seeking dental care in the event of an emergency. However, there are options for families to receive routine dental care at reduced rates:

  • Dental Safety Net Programs: Ohio’s safety net dental services provide dental care to individuals with Medicaid and provide a sliding fee scale or free care to individuals without dental care coverage. These programs offer a variety of services such as: dental exams, x-rays, fillings, extractions, root canals and dentures.
  • Smile Help Now: Find affordable dental care provided by Delta Dental Foundation connects families with affordable no- or low-cost dental providers.
  • School-Based Dental Clinics: Many schools across the state have partnered with health care providers, federally qualified health centers or community health centers to set up school-based dental clinics. These clinics can be mobile or stationary as part of the school building and are often part of a primary care school-based health center. 

Oral Health Screening

Ohio Department of Health’s 2018 Guidelines for Oral Health Screening in Ohio’s Schools provides guidance to school nurses and dental hygienists on conducting oral health screenings in the school setting. The Ohio Department of Health created this document prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and additional COVID guidelines will apply.

Oral health screenings are optional for Ohio schools. They do provide an opportunity to emphasize the importance of regular oral health care and routine visits to the dentist. Screenings will identify children with immediate dental health care needs. It’s important to  have resources available in the community to refer children in the event of emergent dental health needs. Finding a dentist located in the community who is committed to seeing children who screen as emergency needs is essential for children that don’t have a private dentist. Nurses can check the listing of safety net dental programs listed above. The Oral Health Screening Guidelines toolkit linked above provides sample consent forms (Appendices I & II), documentation forms (Appendix III) and parent notification and referral forms (Appendix IV). For more information on the Guidelines for Oral Health Screening in Ohio Schools, contact either the Ohio Department of Health’s Oral Health Program or School Nursing Program at .

Oral Health Literacy

Oral health literacy is an important component of good oral health. Children whose parents have low oral health literacy tend to have poor oral health. Starting at a young age, schools can impact this by providing students and their families with easy-to-understand oral health information.

Educational Resources for Educators


Last Modified: 4/25/2024 3:34:35 PM