More than 40% of children in the U.S. have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten, and low-income children have much higher rates than their wealthier peers. Although tooth decay is highly preventable, limited access to dental care contributes to the growing problem, particularly for preschool-age children.

CHCS developed A Guide to Improving Children’s Oral Health Care to help New Jersey Head Start staff establish dental homes and improve oral health for low-income children ages 0-3. This product of the New Jersey Smiles initiative supports Head Start staff in working with Medicaid managed care organizations, NJ FamilyCare/Medicaid, students, families, and community dental providers to monitor, document, and improve children’s preventive dental care. The guide:

  • Provides an overview of oral health problems in young and high-risk children;
  • Defines a “dental home” and offers guidelines for working with Medicaid, health plans, and dental providers to establish dental homes;
  • Suggests ways to educate families about the importance of oral health, and help overcome barriers to prevention, evaluation, and treatment; and
  • Offers fun and simple strategies to promote oral health in the classroom.

State Medicaid agencies, community organizations, and Head Start sites in other states can use this resource to guide their own initiatives for improving oral health care for young, low-income children.