North Carolina: School Dental Screenings Help Reduce Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is one of the most common childhood dental issues in the United States. Untreated tooth decay can cause infections, toothaches, and problems with chewing food. Children whose teeth hurt can have a hard time speaking and concentrating on their schoolwork. Conducting dental screenings at school is an effective way to prevent tooth decay in children. In North Carolina, 13% of kindergarteners and 14% of third graders had untreated tooth decay in 2013. The North Carolina Division of Public Health uses Preventive Health and Health Services (PHHS) Block Grant funding to support its Oral Health Program.

The Oral Health Program helps treat children who are more likely to develop tooth decay, such as children from families with low incomes or children who don’t have a regular dentist. The program provides dental screenings and treatments at schools. Screenings can identify any cavities children have that could require a dentist’s care. During the school screenings, dental program staff also apply sealants—thin, protective plastic coatings put over tiny grooves on the back teeth chewing surfaces—to prevent germs and food particles from causing decay.

The Oral Health Program also teaches dental care, like brushing and flossing, to school children and involves parents by providing them easy-to-understand brochures in English and Spanish about child dental care. Twenty-five dental hygienists across North Carolina currently offer these dental and educational services aimed to maintain oral health.

During the 2013–2014 school year, Oral Health Program staff screened more than 64,000 elementary school children for tooth decay, and more than 8,300 children were found to need care such as dental sealants. Also, more than 10,200 parents received information about keeping their children’s teeth strong.

Because of the PHHS Block Grant support for school-based oral health, many North Carolina children who are less likely to get dental care now can have healthy teeth.

Story year: 2015

Picture showing a woman teaching a young girl how to brush her teeth.

North Carolina used PHHS Block Grant funding for its Oral Health Program, which provides dental services to children who don’t have a regular dentist.

Page last reviewed: April 17, 2018