Childhood Oral Health in Wisconsin

State of Children's Health in Wisconsin

Childhood Oral Health in Wisconsin

What is the definition?

Oral health is essential to the general health and well-being of all Wisconsin’s children. The term “oral health” refers to much more than healthy teeth. It also refers to the health and maintenance of all the other associated mouth tissues—such as the gums, the tongue, the lips, the hard and soft palate, and the jaw bones and muscles. A healthy mouth allows for children to eat comfortably, smile, speak, and it is responsible for so much more.

Poor oral health can decrease a child’s appetite and ability to eat and can have a negative impact on a child’s ability to learn and enjoy school. A child cannot be completely healthy without having good oral health.

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How many children are affected?

Dental caries, also called tooth decay, are the most common cause of chronic disease in children.

During the 2008–09 school year, among Wisconsin’s Head Start children1

  • Approximately 21 percent had a need for early dental care (meaning they had dental decay without accompanying signs or symptoms)
  • 5 percent needed urgent dental care because of pain or infection.

During the 2007–08 school year, among Wisconsin third grade students2

  • 17 percent had a need for early dental care
  • Almost 3 percent needed urgent dental care because of pain or infection.

Disparities can be seen in oral health: 88.5 percent of parents from families above 400 percent of the federal poverty limit (FPL) described their children’s teeth in excellent/good condition, compared with only 54.5.

Condition of Teeth Among Wisconsin Children Age 1-17 (20073)

Excellent/very good 75.5
Good 19.5
Fair/poor 5

 Wisconsin Third-Grade Children (2007-08) Versus Healthy People 2020 (6-9 years) Objectives

  Caries experience Untreated decay Received Dental Sealants
Wisconsin 55 25 51
Healthy People 2020 Objectives 50 20 29

What are strategies to help?

Although oral health problems are among the most common health issues for Wisconsin children, they are also almost always preventable. Oral health disease prevention can be accomplished by parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers all working together with children to promote behaviors that allow for good oral health. Some key strategies include the following:

  • Encourage healthy eating behaviors: eat regular nutritious meals, avoid frequent between-meal snacking, and avoid bringing sippy cups or bottles to bed
  • Brush teeth twice a day once teeth erupt
  • Drink fluoridated water or take a prescribed fluoride supplement
  • Talk to health care providers about oral risk assessments and fluoride varnish applications to prevent caries
  • Visit the dentist regularly and ask about dental sealants

These are just a few strategies to help children have a good oral health. Learn more at:

Snapshot of Childhood Oral Health Policy4

Policy Description

Number of States with Such a Policy

Wisconsin has a Policy

Has a state law allowing dental hygienists to offer preventive service in certain settings



Has a state law children to have a dental exam before they start school




  1. 2008-09 Healthy Smiles for a Healthy Head Start
  2. 2007-08 Make Your Smile Count
  3. 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health