The 2000 Surgeon General’s report describes oral health in the United States as a “silent epidemic of dental and oral diseases.” That epidemic is hitting America’s children hard. In fact, tooth decay is the most common childhood disease in the United States—occurring five times more often than asthma and seven times more often than hay fever. Left untreated, oral diseases in children can cause serious health problems and pain. It is estimated that more than 51 million school hours are lost each year to dental-related illness. While an estimated 5 percent of children under 18 have untreated dental problems, that percentage rises to 39 percent for African American children and 60 percent for Mexican American children.
In 2001, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation established the Caring for Kids grant initiative to increase the number of children with access to dental and mental health services by offering those services in school-based health centers. The school-based health centers in the Caring for Kids program offer a mix of dental services, including some combination of screening, cleaning, sealants, restorative care, and classroom education. This publication describes the seven school-based dental programs.