State ramps up dental exams for kindergarteners 

Print More

Capital News Service

LANSING — A program providing free dental assessments to children starting kindergarten is set to officially begin in the 2024-25 school year.

But advocates say insufficient funding could prevent the program from being fully implemented statewide.

Under the program, kindergarteners are required to get a dental check-up before starting school, just as they’re required to get hearing and vision screenings. Dental hygienists will then refer them to their local medical providers if they see problems.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Kindergarten Oral Health Assessment Program into law in December after a successful pilot program.

Neema Katibai, the manager of government and insurance affairs at the Michigan Dental Association in Okemos, said the benefits will be significant for Michigan’s children.

“Not having dental care can contribute to oral health pain, embarrassment and cause social issues and missed school time,” Katibai said. “So, our goal is to make sure these children have access to care, that their parents know where to access resources.”

The dental health of over 10,000 children was assessed through optional screenings during the initial pilot program. Around a quarter of them were referred to local providers for further care, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Among the local health departments participating in the pilot were those serving Grand Traverse, Alpena, Oakland, Marquette, Chippewa and Ottawa counties.

Emily Henderson, a lobbyist for the Michigan Oral Health Coalition, said she expects those numbers to grow drastically with the new law in effect.

“We believe that continued funding for the program will catch children and any decay before their situation worsens, resulting in saved costs for families and the state,” Henderson said.

Health and Human Services will allocate $4 million to all local health departments in the state to run the program in the 2024-25 school year, according to department public information officer Lynn Sutfin.

But data shows it would take at least $4.5 million to fully fund the program for the upcoming school year, according to Henderson and Norm Hess, the executive director of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health.

“We’re advocating for a little bit more,” Hess said. “It’s certainly not enough to spread it statewide.”

Kimberly Singh, a former president of the Michigan Oral Health Coalition and current chief of community and governmental affairs for My Community Dental Centers in Petoskey, said she would also support an increase in funding but is pleased to see the pilot program being put more fully into action.

She said she would encourage local public health departments to review how much money would be needed to sustain the program in the future. 

The program is being phased in over a three-year period. Counties currently set to participate in 2024-25 include Ottawa, Leelanau, Alcona, Mecosta, Mason, Emmet, Cheboygan, Alpena and the entire Upper Peninsula. 

Detroit’s health department is set to participate in the program, while the rest of Wayne County isn’t.

Henderson said she hopes the phased-in approach will alleviate financial struggles.

But in the future, “we would encourage the (state) department and local public health to come together and review funding calculations to ensure the program is fully funded to support our children,” Henderson said.

Sutfin said the department will continue to work with local agencies as they carry out the program.

“For many local health departments, implementing oral health assessments is a new service,” Sutfin said. 

“Health departments are working to determine the best option to establish a program for their communities, including establishing an in-house program, contracting with a dental agency to perform the assessments or pooling funds with other health departments and offering a regional approach for the oral health assessments,” she said.

Comments are closed.