While you might not think about your oral health until you suffer from dental pain, tooth decay remains the most chronic condition among children nationwide. It can hurt a child’s ability to eat, sleep, and learn. In fact, children with poor oral health are four times more likely to earn lower grades than their healthier peers. As kids grow up, poor oral health can lead to lower wages or limited job prospects. Those are some pretty hefty consequences for a disease that can be prevented if children and families get the right support.

How can we improve children’s oral health so they can reach their full potential?

Having dental coverage is a piece of this puzzle. We are proud to have collaborated with First Focus in the hard-won fight to protect a key source of dental coverage for kids – the Children’s Health Insurance Program. It was thankfully renewed for a decade earlier this year. And, we continue to work together to safeguard Medicaid against threats that could jeopardize oral health access for children in struggling families. Due, in part, to the guaranteed pediatric dental benefits in CHIP and Medicaid, nearly 9 in 10 children have dental insurance today. Gains made by the Affordable Care Act have also made a difference. Coverage can open the door to children getting needed dental care, whether to prevent or treat harmful decay.

But having coverage alone isn’t enough to keep our kids healthy. As First Focus knows, a child’s health and well-being are affected by the opportunities and challenges their parents or caregivers face, from their access to jobs with a living wage to their own access to health coverage. Even without current threats to Medicaid coming to fruition, parents and caregivers in most states have greater barriers to dental coverage and care than their children do. These are among the circumstances that keep many families from being able to place their children on a path of good oral health, and have broader implications for family success.

The Children’s Dental Health Project (CDHP) wants to know more about how these crucial links can inform policies to help more kids stay healthy. As our new video highlights, CDHP has launched a new initiative addressing oral health within the context of families and the many barriers to family well-being.


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In particular, we want to take a closer look at what opportunities we create (or miss) when we address the oral health of the entire family. Taking a more holistic and multi-generational approach could improve children’s and families’ oral health, improving their overall health and success. At this stage, CDHP is focused on the intersection of oral health and:

  • the economic stability of families
  • family stressors and/or mental health
  • adverse childhood experiences
  • children’s educational outcomes
  • more that we have yet to discover

We hope this investigation leads to new policies that integrate oral health into where we live, work, and play, and how we use and pay for health coverage and care. Solutions that recognize the relationship between these factors and the oral health of the whole family could help more children and families get the support they need.

Embarking on this project, we invite First Focus and its partners to join us. CDHP is new to the bigger frame of family success, “2Gen” approaches, and whole family interventions. In fact, we aren’t even sure what to call it, and we know we need to learn more about the role of oral health in these models. We don’t claim to have all the answers. However, we are opening our doors to new and exciting collaborations to offer our knowledge and experience on oral health — and to learn from experts who have been working on these broader issues for decades. We want to challenge you to think about the role of oral health in your current work, and together strengthen systems that can help kids and families nationwide reach their full potential.

Meg Booth is executive director of the Children’s Dental Health Project, a policy institute in Washington, DC advancing solutions so all children achieve oral health. Learn more at www.cdhp.org.