Report offers guidance to strengthen dental screening laws for k-12 students

By the CDHP team

Over the past 10 years, one of the most common questions we have received by phone or email is this: Have you all ever considered doing another report on dental screening laws for k-12 school students? Today, the Children's Dental Health Project is pleased to release a 10-year update of the 2008 report that we co-produced with the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors.

Like the original report, the new report examines the trend and the challenges of Dental Screening Laws (DSLs). Our new report reveals that:

  • Momentum for adopting DSLs appears to be slowing. Over the past 10 years, only three states enacted these laws.
  • Finding an “oral health champion” is crucial to winning legislative support for a DSL, and diverse coalitions are also recommended.
  • Many states with DSLs have struggled to find dental homes for kids and, more urgently, to identify dentists to whom they can refer students who have oral health needs.
  • Many DSLs are written or implemented in ways that miss opportunities to engage medical providers.
  • Many DSLs have been written in ways that make it hard to gain actionable data. State health departments are rarely able to access or analyze screening data — or they lack the staff capacity to do so. This frustrates efforts to evaluate a DSL’s impact or use it to shape state oral health strategies.

In short, a number of states with DSLs have seen gaps between their original hopes and the way these laws have played out. For this reason, we encourage those who are thinking of seeking a DSL in their states to read the report. It’s filled with a lot of insights and several recommendations.

A number of states with dental screening laws have seen gaps between their original hopes and the way these laws have played out.   ... Ensuring DSLs have a more meaningful, long-term impact on children’s oral health requires several components.

Dr. Eleanor Fleming, the report’s author, spent many hours interviewing key informants from a variety of states and fields. She said, “It was striking to listen to the state dental directors, dental stakeholders, and other subject matter experts from across the country describe what is going on in their states and their perceptions of these laws. I appreciated the candor of everyone who took time from their busy schedules to chat with me."

She continued, "This work affirmed to me that if you have observed one state or local dental program, you have seen one program. All programs are different, and depending on state laws, dental programs face a vast array of dental and public health opportunities and challenges.”

Ensuring that DSLs have a more meaningful, long-term impact on children’s oral health requires several components that are outlined in the report’s "Recommendations" and "Conclusion" sections. Click here to read the report online or download a copy from its CDHP landing page.

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Children with poor oral health were nearly 3x more likely to miss school due to dental pain.
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