Oral Health

Oral Health Services and Their Link to School Readiness

Good oral health enhances children's ability to attend to and engage in program activities.1 It is critical to school success and promotes learning in all developmental areas.

Head Start staff support families by connecting children to an ongoing source of comprehensive, accessible, coordinated, and family-centered oral health care dental home. Staff ensure children are on schedule for care using timeframes for services recommended by each state's Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) program. Children also may receive fluoride supplements and topical fluoride treatments to prevent tooth decay as recommended by professional guidelines.2

For more information on oral health services, select .

Improve the effectiveness of health services and support school readiness by:

Promoting the link between oral health and school readiness to improve access to and engagement in learning.

  • Provide training to help families and staff understand that a healthy mouth is part of overall health and that tooth decay can make it harder for children to learn.
  • Use science-informed oral health curricula and other educational materials to provide information on preventing tooth decay by choosing healthy foods and beverages and practicing good oral hygiene.
  • Promote the oral health and school readiness link through health literacy activities.

Capitalizing on partnerships to expand oral health resources that support children's ongoing engagement in learning.

  • Work with families, the Health Services Advisory Committee (HSAC), and community partners to identify dental homes for children in Head Start.
  • Help children and pregnant women eligible for Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or other health insurance to enroll in a dental plan. If no source of funding for oral health care is available, Head Start staff can help families access oral health care by:
    • Contacting a dental school to provide care at no charge or for a reduced fee
    • Asking service clubs and organizations to pay for or contribute to the cost of oral health care
  • Work with local oral health professionals and state offices to seek their assistance in improving oral health care for children and pregnant women in Head Start.

Developing oral health policies and procedures that promote child development.

  • Establish and implement policies and procedures to support oral health, such as:
    • Brushing teeth with fluoridated toothpaste
    • Storing toothbrushes safely
    • Responding to oral health emergencies


1Altarum Institute. 2007. Issue Brief: Oral Health Is Critical to the School Readiness of Children in Washington, DC. Washington, DC: Altarum Institute.

2Weyant RJ, Tracy SL, Anselmo A, Beltrán-Aguilar ED, Donly KJ, Frese WA, Hujoel PP, Iafolla T, Kohn W, Kumar J, Levy SM, Tinanoff N, Wright JT, Zero D, Aravamudhan K, Frantsve-Hawley J, Meyer DM. 2013. Topical fluoride for caries prevention: Executive summary of the updated clinical recommendations and supporting systematic review. Journal of the American Dental Association 144(11):1279-1291.

3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing cavities, gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancers: At a glance. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/doh.htm

4U.S. General Accounting Office. 2000. Oral Health: Dental Disease Is a Chronic Problem Among Low Income and Vulnerable Populations. Washington, DC: General Accounting Office. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/he00072.pdf.

5Schechter N. 2000. The impact of acute and chronic dental pain on child development. Journal of the Southeastern Society of Pediatric Dentistry 6(2):16.

Last Reviewed: April 2014

Last Updated: April 10, 2014