School Dental Programs Face Stiff Challenges

School-Based Oral Health Programs (SBOHPs) provide a vital service to children who don’t always have access to health care outside of school. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this issue as school closures have limited the ability for children to receive basic preventative care.

A new report from the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement and the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD) finds that this disruption has major implications for the oral health of children. In June 2020, ASTDD disseminated a survey, supported by the DentaQuest Partnership, of the oral health program directors in all U.S. states and territories to learn their plans for implementing SBOHPs during the 2020-2021 school year. In all, directors in 44 states or territories participated in the survey.

Some key findings from the report:

  • 84% of state/territorial directors said they were spending at least some time on pandemic-related support, including communication materials for executive orders, dental licensing board consultation, dental provider communication, and infection control guidance
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has cited the crucial role of SBOHPs in reducing decay and helping children “stay healthy and ready to learn.” The CDC has called these programs “especially important for reaching children from low-income families who are less likely to receive private dental care.”
  • 35% of directors said that most of their time was devoted to assisting with COVID-19 related activities.

While it’s clear the pandemic has posed serious challenges for schools, parents and children, it also presents an opportunity for oral health programs to reassess priorities and develop contingency plans on how to continue providing these services to low-income children if a similar health crisis in the future disrupts SBOHPs.

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