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Dental Screenings

Oregon children who are starting public school and are 7 years old or younger will be required to have dental screenings or show proof they’ve had one, under legislation signed by Gov. Kate Brown.

Starting with the 2016-17 school year, new students will have to submit certification that they have received a screening within the previous 12 months from a licensed dentist or dental hygienist, or from a school employee qualified to spot dental problems. The certification must be submitted within 120 days of the student’s first day for him or her to remain enrolled, said Ely Sanders, school health specialist for the Oregon Department of Education.

State Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg, a dentist who was the chief sponsor of House Bill 2972, said it will have little impact on children who already receive regular dental care. “This is designed to capture children that don’t have that opportunity,” he said.

Hayden and Sanders said the bill has two goals: identifying children who have cavities, abscesses or other dental problems that may cause them to miss school, and raising parents’ awareness of the importance of oral health. Parents of children who are screened at school will be notified of the results and informed about followup and preventive care.

The school screenings won’t be full dental exams. Instead, they’ll consist of “a quick look in the mouth with a mirror and a bright light,” said Dr. Bruce Austin, the state’s new dental director, who will implement the law.

Under discussion now is who will do the school screenings. “Doing a screening inside somebody’s mouth requires a certain amount of dental knowledge,” Austin said.

School nurses had criticized the bill, saying they didn’t feel they had sufficient training to detect dental problems. They also raised concerns that dental screenings would reduce the time they could spend on other health issues.

Hayden said the new law will not require school nurses to do the screenings. Sanders said other school staff could be trained, or schools could work with local nonprofits.

HB 2972 will also require school districts to report to the state annually on the percentage of their students who did not submit dental certification. The bill has an estimated fiscal impact of about $16,500 for that recordkeeping, Hayden said.

Hayden said that as with other school-based screenings, parents will have the opportunity to opt out based on philosophical beliefs.

The Oregon Dental Association has said the screening program will help prevent “needless pain and suffering” for many Oregon children and will help dentists target programs and services to the parts of the state where children have the most dental problems.

“If we improve Oregonians’ oral health it’s going to improve our overall health,” Austin said.