Dental hygienists can work in partnership with Head Start programs to improve oral health services for children and expectant parents.
Explore tips below for what dental hygienists can do to help.
Increase oral health knowledge and skills.
- Take professional development courses to learn how to provide oral health care for children, including children with disabilities enrolled in Head Start programs. For example, Special Care: An Oral Health Professional’s Guide to Serving Children with Special Health Care Needs addresses the unique oral health needs of children with disabilities in a comprehensive, family-centered, and community-based manner.
- Address social determinants of health to promote good oral health for Head Start participants and their families. For example, dental hygienists can promote resources to Head Start staff that are tailored to families’ commonly spoken languages, cultures, and traditions.
Partner with oral health professionals and organizations.
- Get involved in the dental hygienist liaison (DHL) project in the state. The DHL project provides an opportunity to improve the oral health of children and expectant parents enrolled in Head Start programs. DHLs in each state serve as an important communication link between the Office of Head Start National Center on Health, Behavioral Health, and Safety and Head Start programs and play other key roles. Dental hygienists can contact their state DHL to help support the project’s activities.
- Leverage resources from professional associations (e.g., the American Dental Hygienists’ Association) at national, state, and local levels to raise awareness among dental hygienists about the oral health needs of Head Start participants. This can also facilitate association members’ involvement in Head Start programs. For example:
- Use electronic communication tools such as the association’s website, newsletter, podcast, social media accounts, blog, or discussion list to highlight the oral health needs of Head Start participants.
- Encourage designation of the association’s foundation funds for Head Start program–related activities. For example, the Texas Dental Hygienists’ Association offers an annual Healthy Start for Texas Teeth Community Service Grant to foster collaborative efforts among individual members or local components of the association to provide fluoride varnish application and oral health education for underserved populations.
- Encourage dental hygiene programs to require students to work with Head Start programs as part of their education to gain experience with and appreciation for serving families with low incomes and instill a sense of community responsibility.
Provide oral health care to Head Start participants.
- Initiate treatment based on assessment of a patient’s needs, without authorization or presence of a dentist in most states, and apply silver diamine fluoride under varying forms of supervision in most states.
- Enter into written collaborative agreements with dentists, allowing them to provide care outside the dental office, such as in public health settings serving populations at high risk for oral diseases.
- Receive Medicaid reimbursement for providing services such as prophylaxis, fluoride treatments, dental sealants, and oral hygiene evaluations in many states.
Collaborate with Head Start programs.
- Contact your local program’s health manager and offer to provide oral health education and preventive care.
- Share oral health resources on Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC) with Head Start staff, including the Brush Up on Oral Health tip sheets and Healthy Habits for Happy Smiles handouts for families. Subscribe to the Office of Head Start Oral Health e-mail update to receive the Resources to Make You Smile! monthly newsletter for Head Start staff. Most resources are available in English and in Spanish.
- Join a Health Services Advisory Committee composed of families, Head Start staff, health and human service professionals, and other community members to support the program’s objective to increase access to health care, including oral health care. For example, committee members can assist in the development and review of policies and procedures (e.g., using teledentistry to conduct oral exams).
- Help Head Start staff recruit private dental practices or clinics to provide oral health care for children and expectant parents.
Serve as a champion for oral health.
- Work with policymakers and other stakeholders (e.g., state department of health staff, state Medicaid agency staff, legislators, state Head Start association) to promote policies to increase access to oral health care for children and expectant parents from families with low incomes, including those enrolled in Head Start programs.
- Advocate for increased health literacy and cultural competency training in dental hygiene program curricula to improve communication in community-based programs, such as Head Start programs.
- Encourage health professionals to provide oral health care to Head Start participants and to provide referrals to oral health professionals who accept Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Resource Type: Publication
National Centers: Health, Behavioral Health, and Safety
Program Type: Head Start
Audience: Teachers and Caregivers
Last Updated: December 1, 2023