Oral Health

A student has his teeth examined by dentist


Tooth decay (cavities) is one of the most common chronic conditions of childhood in the United States. About 1 in 5 (20%) children aged 5–11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth. The percentage of children and adolescents aged 5–19 years with untreated tooth decay is twice as high for children from low-income families (25%) compared with children from higher-income households (12%).1

Poor oral health can have a detrimental effect on children’s quality of life, their performance at school, and their success later in life.2 Tooth decay is preventable and ensuring that students have the preventive oral health services they need in school is important in helping them stay healthy and ready to learn. Dental sealants prevent tooth decay and also stop cavities from growing—they result in a large reduction in tooth decay among school-aged children aged 5–16 years.3

Addressing Oral Health in Schools
girl with tooth pain

School sealant programs provide sealants to children in a school setting, and school-linked programs screen the children in school and refer them to private dental practices or public dental clinics that place the sealants. These programs have been shown to increase the number of children who receive sealants at school, and are especially important for reaching children from low-income families who are less likely to receive private dental care. Programs that offer oral health care to students should:

  1. Dye BA, Xianfen L, Beltrán-Aguilar ED. Selected Oral Health Indicators in the United States 2005–2008. NCHS Data Brief, no. 96. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2012.
  2. Kwan SY, Petersen PE, Pine CM, Borutta A. 2005. Health-promoting schools: an opportunity for oral health promotion. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. 83(9):677685.
  3. Griffin SO, Wei L, Gooch BF, Weno K, Espinoza L. Vital signs: dental sealant use and untreated tooth decay among U.S. school-aged children. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016;65:11411145. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6541e1external icon