Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

  • This strategy can help promote healthy childhood environments and improve access to health services. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve these outcomes are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • Partnerships to provide dental care to students: School dental programs are partnerships between dental practices and schools that provide K-12 students with dental care. Such partnerships aim to serve students without reliable access to dental services, such as those from low-income families or who live in rural areas. There is strong evidence that such programs reduce cavities and tooth decay, as well as other positive health outcomes.

  • Providing preventative dental care: School dental programs primarily offer preventative care services. This may include regular cleanings, screening for dental needs, sealant treatments to protect permanent molars, and fluoride treatments.

  • School-based dental services: School dental programs can be integrated into existing school health centers or operated through temporary, on-site dental clinics. If dental services are integrated into school health centers, there may be opportunities for students to receive check-ups and preventative services year-round. If services are stand-alone, on the other hand, dental professionals will typically visit a school site for short intervals (e.g., a few days) and many students can receive treatment over the course of that interval. Temporary, on-site clinics may operate out of mobile vans or using portable equipment inside a school building.

  • School-linked dental services: School dental programs may also provide services through dental professionals at community practice locations. In this case, students are typically screened at school and then referred for dental care in the community. They then visit private dental practices or public dental clinics for any treatments needed. Referrals may be made as students reach key milestones in tooth development. For example, as children are developing adult molars, they may be screened and referred for sealants.

  • Services provided by dental professionals, supported by schools: School dental programs rely on dental professionals, who are most commonly employed by state and local health departments or Federally Qualified Health Centers. Schools typically provide space and administrative support to support dental programs.

Cost per Participant
Not available

Multiple studies with rigorous designs demonstrate that school dental programs are a well-supported strategy for reducing cavities and tooth decay.

  • A 2017 research synthesis found that school dental programs are associated with fewer cavities among children.

  • A 2018 research synthesis found that school dental programs are associated with a decline in tooth decay among children.

  • Increase efficiency: Strong collaboration between schools and dental providers can help ensure that as many children as possible receive services and that the children with the highest need for support are seen first. Schools should establish a referral process so that staff who identify children with dental needs through observation or conversations with parents and students can ensure they receive dental care. Schools should also develop systems for distributing and collecting parental consent forms so that students are ready to receive care from dental providers.

  • Include oral health care in curriculum: Classroom lessons and activities should be used to reinforce healthy oral health care habits such as tooth brushing and flossing. Schools should also look for opportunities to distribute oral health supplies (e.g., toothbrushes, toothpaste) acquired through donations, grants, or other funding sources.

  • Use dental professionals to the top of their license: Dental professionals should operate to the full extent of their education and training, as this keeps costs lower for services, thus expanding the number of students who can be served. For example, sealants may be applied by a dental hygienist rather than a dentist.

  • Facilitate follow-up care: Follow-up dental care is important to long-term oral health outcomes. School dental programs should connect students to providers who can offer more complex care (i.e., beyond preventative measures) as well as help students connect with long-term dental providers. In addition, programs should provide case managers or other dedicated personnel who can help families enroll in Medicaid; state Children’s Health Insurance Programs; or Women, Infants, and Children programs so that they have coverage for any necessary follow-up care.