Dental problems and pain are a leading cause of missed school days. Tooth decay and oral health problems can interfere with learning and academic success. It can be difficult to pay attention in school and can lead to poor attendance. Likewise, if children are experiencing dental pain or tooth decay, they can have trouble eating, communicating, learning, and feeling confident.

School readiness depends on positive physical, social and emotional, language, and cognitive development. Oral health impacts each of these areas and is a key aspect of a child’s school readiness.  Children with poor oral health may:

  • Have a hard time concentrating and learning because they are in pain
  • Develop other serious health conditions, such as infections
  • Stop smiling, cover their mouth with their hands when they speak, or withdraw from family, friends, and teachers if others comment on the appearance of their teeth

Head Start Ensures Daily Child Dental Care

Oral health influences overall health throughout a lifetime. Head Start promotes good health habits in early childhood and helps to prevent tooth decay or dental problems in the future.

Teaching families about oral health throughout the program year is a valuable service that Head Start staff provide. Head Start programs can get information on a child’s oral health status and care using forms developed by the National Center on Health, Behavioral Health, and Safety. The forms are filled out during a child’s dental visit and can be customized with the Head Start program’s name, mailing address, phone and fax numbers, and email address.

Parents play a critical role, too. Their involvement is vital in keeping children’s mouths happy and healthy. Engaging Head Start parents and local partners in oral health initiatives and screenings when possible fosters great habits at home as well as in the classroom.

What can you do to help children have healthier smiles?

  • Introduce Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures to your program. They provide classroom videos, program materials, online games, and printable flyers to foster the learning and teaching of oral health care.
  • Request a Head Start Classroom Kit. Colgate offers a free kit that includes easy-to use-in classroom materials, as well as toothpaste and toothbrush samples for 25 students. Apply for your kit!
  • Check to see if your program is able to receive a visit from the Colgate Mobile Dental Vans. Their vans screen more than 10 million children each year in underserved rural and urban communities and provide child oral health education, free dental screenings, and treatment referrals for children. Request a van visit.

Dr. Deborah Bergeron

Dr. B served as director of the Office of Head Start from 2018-21. From 2019-21 she broadened her leadership as director of the Office of Early Childhood Development in the Administration for Children and Families. Known as "Dr. B" to former students and teachers, she spent three decades in pre-K–12 public education as a classroom teacher and school administrator. She currently serves as deputy director for Community Engagement and Innovation at the National Head Start Association.

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