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New School Screening Requirement Sheds Light on Hidden Kids’ Health Problem

PALO ALTO – As thousands of local kids troop to kindergarten in the next few weeks, a quarter of them will start school with an untreated disease. Not asthma, not obesity: dental decay.

Dental disease is the most prevalent health problem for children in California. Many children, particularly those from low-income families, live with untreated decay that affects their physical and emotional health, as well as their school attendance and academic performance. The California legislature recognized the pervasiveness of this issue and last year passed a law requiring that children have a dental check-up before May 31 of their first year in school.

As the new requirement brings heightened attention to this hidden issue at the start of the school year, the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health today released a report highlighting dental health conditions for children in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties,

“Dental decay is a hidden and insidious disease that hits particularly hard among lower-income children,” said David Alexander, MD, president and CEO of the foundation. “Yet dental problems are in large part preventable, and efforts to combat them must take place on a variety of levels, from state policy to parent education.”

According to The 2007 Checkup: Children’s Dental Health in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties:

  • Children at greatest risk for dental disease are those who are low-income, non-English speakers, not drinking fluoridated water, victims of abuse or neglect, disabled, or under age 5;
  • More than a third of Santa Clara county children and a quarter of San Mateo county children ages 2 to 11 have never been to a dentist;
  • 89 percent of kids in Santa Clara County and 83 percent in San Mateo County have some form of dental insurance; however, treatment often is limited because of transportation problems; long waits for appointments; few private providers who accept public insurance; limited dental van capacity; few Spanish- or Vietnamese-speaking providers; and large geographic areas without providers nearby.
  • In addition to causing pain, oral health problems can affect a child’s physical health, sometimes resulting in malnutrition and infection in other parts of the body; schoolwork and self-confidence also can suffer.

The report describes local and state programs and initiatives currently under way, and also notes pending legislation. It offers a comprehensive list of regional dental health resources that, along with the full study, can be accessed free at the Foundation’s website at

The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health is a public charity devoted exclusively to the health and well-being of children. Through its website, the foundation tracks indicators of children’s health over time, and issues occasional in-depth reports on key issues, such as dental health.
For more information on the Foundation, see and