[Skip to Content]

Key Facts

K–12 Oral Health Education

Photo of a smiling child

  Share these facts to help improve the oral health of children, adolescents, and their families.

  • Schools are the intersection of public health programs, oral health care, and self-care. Schools therefore have a unique opportunity to enhance students’ health literacy, including oral health literacy. 1
  • Oral health education should be a required part of public school health education. 2
  • When included in the school curricula, health literacy and oral health literacy provide information, understanding, and skills needed to protect and improve the health status of students, staff, families, and communities. 1
  • Community interventions have the potential to improve oral health by treating groups rather than individuals. Examples of interventions include school-based oral health care programs and public health nutritional campaigns to prevent or reduce the prevalence of caries, periodontal disease, and other preventable oral health problems. 3
  • Childhood and adolescence are periods when lifelong oral-health-related behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes are being developed, which means that this is an ideal time during which to provide oral health education at school. 4
  • Even with a modest curriculum commitment, dental students have the capacity to work with schools in the areas of oral health education and oral heath promotion. 5
  • Partnerships between school nurses and dental hygiene programs can result in benefits for both children and adolescents enrolled in the school and dental hygiene students; children and adolescents from underserved groups receive oral health care, and dental hygiene students develop skills. 6
  • Schools can partner with dental hygiene programs to teach children with special health care needs to cooperate with oral care procedures to support their oral health and overall health. 6
  • Conducting classroom experiments to learn about the tooth-decay process provides elementary school teachers with an opportunity to achieve multiple learning objectives, including teaching students about chemistry and communicating important concepts about oral health and overall health. 7
  • Improving children’s brushing behavior starts with understanding their motivations for achieving good oral health. 8


  1. Braun B, Horowitz AM, Kleinman DV, Gold RS, Radice SD, Maybury C. 2012. Oral health literacy: At the intersection of K–12 education and public health. Journal of the California Dental Association 40(4):323–330.
  2. Fine JI, Isman RE, Grant CB. 2012. A comprehensive school-based/linked dental program: An essential piece of the California access to care puzzle. Journal of the California Dental Association 40(3):229–237.
  3. American Dental Hygienists Association, Council on Research. 2016. National dental hygiene research agenda. Journal of Dental Hygiene 90 (suppl. 1):43–50.
  4. Lam A. 2014. Elements in oral health programs. New York State Dental Journal 80(2):26–30.
  5. Gundersen D, Bhagavatula P, Pruszynski JE, Okunseri C. 2012. Dental students' perceptions of self-efficacy and cultural competence with school-based programs. Journal of Dental Education 76(9):1175–1182.
  6. DeMattei RR, Allen J, Goss B. 2012. A service-learning project to eliminate barriers to oral care for children with special health care needs. Journal of School Nursing 28(3):168–174.
  7. Stone JH. 2012. Sinking your teeth into tooth decay. Science and Children 49(5):41–45.
  8. Walker KK, Steinfort EL, Keyler MJ. 2015. Cues to action as motivators for children's brushing. Health Communications 30(9):911–921.

National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center. 2017. Key Facts: K–12 Oral Health Education. Washington, DC: National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center.