Brushing Up On Head Start’s Oral Health

Oral health problems and tooth decay can impact overall health and development outcomes as well as academic success. If children are experiencing dental pain or tooth decay, they can have trouble eating, communicating, learning, and feeling confident. Head Start recognizes the impact that oral health in early childhood has on developmental outcomes throughout life and emphasizes individual oral health hygiene to ensure all children receive dental care every day.

Because the right resources are sometimes hard to find to help ensure all children and their families have access to high-quality oral health services, NHSA has dedicated this Year of Whole Health month to sharing resources and tools to help improve and expand your oral health efforts.

We hosted a webinar Brushing up on Head Start’s Oral Health, where we heard from Dr. Marsha Butler, Vice President of Global Oral Health at Colgate-Palmolive, about how the Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures initiative has reached more than one billion children and their families across 80 countries with free dental screenings and oral health education.

This webinar provided information on resources and strategies to better support Head Start children, families, and communities in promoting oral health and accessing oral health screenings and follow-up care. Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures has a variety resources including teacher guides, oral health activities and materials, classroom videos, and oral health kits for children and families. These resources are all available to request or download at no cost for Head Start and Early Head Start programs!

What did we learn this month?

  1. Oral health influences overall health throughout a lifetime. Promoting good oral health habits in early childhood can prevent any tooth decay or dental and oral problems in the future. Children need healthy teeth to communicate, eat and chew, and smile with confidence. Poor oral health in early childhood can lead to poor overall health and development later in life.
  2. Dental problems and pain are the 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.
  3. Parents play a critical role. Parents’ involvement is vital in keeping our children’s mouths happy and healthy by promoting these healthy habits at home. Engaging Head Start parents in oral health initiatives and screenings when possible will help foster great habits at home as well as in the classroom.

What can you do to help children have healthier smiles?

  1. Introduce Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures resources and materials into your program. Go to Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures’s website and download all the free activities and tools provided. They provide classroom videos, program materials, online games, and printable flyers to foster the learning and teaching of oral health care.
  2. Request a Head Start Classroom Kit. Colgate BSBF offers a free kit that includes easy-to use-in classroom materials, as well as Colgate’s toothpaste and toothbrush samples for 25 students. Apply for your kit now here!
  3. Check to see if your program is able to receive a visit from the Colgate BSBF Mobile Dental Vans. These dental vans screen more than 10 million children each year in underserved rural and urban communities around the U.S. and provide oral health education, free dental screenings, and treatment referrals for children. You can request a van visit here.
  4. Check out the Oral Health Resources on ECLKC. Visit the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center’s Oral Health page for more Head Start specific information and resources to improve and engage your program in oral health efforts.

If you have any questions about this topic or any other topic within NHSA’s Year of Whole Health Initiative, please contact Sarah Neil at

Interested in continuing this conversation online? Log into The Block to engage in discussion, peer-to-peer learning, and idea and resource sharing with hundreds of other NHSA members within 9 different Communities of Practice. If you have questions about The Block and NHSA’s membership, please contact Taylor Bohn at



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