Dentists can work in partnership with Head Start programs to improve oral health services for children and expectant parents.
Explore tips below for what dentists 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, dentists can promote resources to Head Start staff that are tailored to families' commonly spoken languages, cultures, and traditions.
Partner with health professionals and organizations.
- Leverage resources from professional oral health associations (e.g., Academy of General Dentistry, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Dental Association) at the national, state, and local levels. This can facilitate association members' involvement in Head Start programs. For example:
- Use electronic communication tools such as the association's website, newsletter, and podcast to raise awareness about the oral health needs of Head Start program participants.
- Encourage designation of the association's foundation funds for Head Start-related activities.
- Encourage dental schools 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.
- Educate medical providers about the importance of conducting oral health screenings, risk assessments, and fluoride varnish and silver diamine fluoride applications and providing anticipatory guidance.
Provide oral health care to Head Start participants.
- Provide preventive oral health care, including fluoride varnish and silver diamine fluoride applications, and education in Head Start classrooms, private practice, and other clinical settings.
- Offer oral health care using teledentistry in communities where accessing oral health care is difficult.
- Follow professional association guidelines on oral health care for young children, including children with disabilities, and expectant parents. Take courses on how to provide oral health care for these populations.
Collaborate with Head Start programs.
- 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 perform oral exams).
- Work with Head Start entities at the state level, including the Head Start association and Head Start Collaboration Office, to learn about and develop strategies to address the oral health needs of Head Start participants. For example, encourage collaboration between professional oral health association and the state Head Start association by sharing information about the Head Start program's commitment to oral health during meetings and other activities.
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 that 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 school curricula to improve communication in Head Start and other community-based 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