Schools: An ideal setting for dental care

By the CDHP team

The following guest blog post was written by John Schlitt, president of the School-Based Health Alliance, a nonprofit organization founded in 1995.

When notorious bank robber Willie Sutton was asked, why rob banks?, he reputedly replied: “because that’s where the money is.” That common-sense sentiment is being applied in many communities looking to schools to improve children’s access to oral health care: because that’s where the kids are.

Schools represent one of the best opportunities for implementing a preventive intervention system that can move us closer to assuring optimal health for the nation’s school-age population. At the foundation is a public health focus on disease prevention, health promotion, and literacy.

This school-centric approach is especially important in reaching minority and low-income children who, historically, have experienced disparities in both disease and access. It is more about preventing disease than it is about treating it. For oral health specifically, it transcends the narrow “seal, drill and fill” interventions. A school-centered strategy enables communities to take a population approach to school-based oral health promotion, disease prevention, early identification and remediation of risk, and targeted treatment as necessary.

The School-Based Health Alliance represents a model of care — the school-based health center (SBHC) — that is tackling poor oral health and tooth decay as one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood. SBHCs provide a range of services, including primary care, oral health care, and behavioral health care. Because of their location, SBHCs are uniquely positioned to increase the prevention and control of oral diseases, conditions, and injuries while increasing access to preventive oral health care.

SBHCs across the nation are adding and expanding oral health services both on-site and through mobile units. Data from our 2010-11 Census of SBHCs show that the majority of centers provide oral health education and dental screenings with or without an oral health provider. In addition to these preventive services, one-third of all SBHCs provide dental examinations by either a dentist or dental hygienist.

Providing health care in school is an ideal way to reach our nation’s students, particularly those who are at the highest risk of health problems.

By providing access to health care in school, SBHCs circumvent the barriers to care that many families often face. Parents do not need to take off time from work to take their child to see a dentist, and students are not taken from the classroom for longer than is necessary.

Visit our website to download our collection of fact sheets citing research on the positive impact of SBHCs — from student success to cost savings for communities.

Providing health care in school is an ideal way to reach our nation’s students, particularly those who are at the highest risk of health problems. In addition to being National Children’s Dental Health Month, February is also National School-Based Health Care Awareness Month. I encourage you to visit our website to learn more about how SBHCs are helping to connect kids and teens to the health care services they need right in their schools.

The opinions expressed by guest bloggers or interview subjects do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Children's Dental Health Project. The School-Based Health Alliance is the national voice for school-based health care, and it serves the school-based health care field by providing technical assistance, resources, and trainings so they can provide the best-quality health care to their patients. In addition, the Alliance advocates for policies on the local, state, and federal level that strengthen school health. The Alliance supports our technical assistance and advocacy work — and the entire school-based health care field — through quality research and evaluation.

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