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Module 4: What to Do and How to Do It

4.3 What is an Oral Health Screening?

Primary care professionals or other appropriately trained professionals, as determined by state practice acts or regulations, can perform an oral health screening of the lips, tongue, teeth, gums, inside of the cheeks, and roof of the mouth to identify oral disease, especially tooth decay, or other oral conditions (for example, delayed tooth eruption or premature tooth loss, abscesses, or trauma) and to provide guidance for management. An oral health screening takes only 2 or 3 minutes to complete. Screenings are not examinations and do not involve making diagnoses that lead to treatment plans. Only an oral health professional (a dentist or dental hygienist who is qualified according to state practice acts or regulations to perform preliminary examinations) has the education, training, and tools needed to conduct oral health examinations.

A dental chair is not needed to perform an oral health screening. For infants and children under age 3, the professional and the parent should sit face to face with their knees touching, with the child placed in the professional’s and the parent’s lap. The child’s head should be nestled securely against the health professional’s abdomen with the child facing the parent. By age 3, children are able to lie flat on an examination table or to sit in front of the parent, with both the child and the parent facing the professional so that the parent can help position and steady the child.

(4.3 continues on next page)

Video: Oral Health Screening

This video shows a health professional and parent positioning a child for an oral health screening using knee-to-knee positioning. Joanna Douglass, B.D.S., D.D.S., describes what to look for when conducting the oral health screening and shows how to perform the lift-the-lip technique.

Used with permission from Joanna Douglass, B.D.S., D.D.S., University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. 2008.

child positioned for oral screening
Child positioned knee to knee for oral health screening.