Early Smiles Sacramento, a program dedicated to improving oral health among vulnerable children in Sacramento County, has launched targeted initiatives to increase consent rates for school-aged students. The program has introduced an oral health program tool kit to engage and motivate students to participate in oral health assessments and fluoride varnish applications. By preventing dental issues and reducing the need for costly restorative care, Early Smiles aims to improve the overall oral health of children in the community.
One of the challenges identified by the Center for Oral Health in their evaluation of Early Smiles was the lower consent rates for school-aged students. In the program year 2023, only 25% of school-aged students consented to receive oral health assessments, compared to 54% for preschoolers and Head Start students. This lower consent rate means that fewer students receive the necessary oral health services, leading to more missed school days due to dental pain.
Tooth decay is a prevalent chronic disease among children, and many children lack the resources to address it. In California alone, dental pain causes approximately 874,000 school days to be missed annually, costing schools between $29 million and $32 million in average daily attendance funding.
To address this issue, the Early Smiles team engages students with educational sessions before providing oral health assessments and treatments. The lower consent rates among school-aged students may be attributed to the virtual format of the oral health education program implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the program has since transitioned back to in-person sessions for preschoolers, which have higher consent rates. In-person interactions are preferred by students as they increase motivation, focus, and information retention compared to virtual education formats.
Despite the success of Early Smiles in providing oral health assessments and education to thousands of students, the program aims to improve its consent rate for school-aged students from 25% to 40% by Summer 2025. The introduction of an oral health program tool kit has received positive initial reactions, with engaging materials such as games, posters, and wristbands designed to promote oral health education. Additionally, the program plans to participate in more parent education meetings, reinstate in-person oral health education for school-aged students, and pilot electronic consents. Early Smiles is committed to proactive measures to ensure the oral health of children in the community.
The work of Early Smiles has garnered support from various stakeholders, including the Sacramento District Dental Society and Foundation and LIBERTY Dental Plan. These organizations recognize the value of oral health education and preventive care in improving the overall oral health of communities. By targeting school-aged students and implementing engaging initiatives, Early Smiles aims to make a significant impact on the oral health of vulnerable children in Sacramento County.