Released by: Health Services
For Immediate Release

February 2020: Sonoma County Children’s Dental Health Month

New report shows efforts to improve oral health are making a difference in children’s lives.

Santa Rosa, CA  –  February 6, 2020  –  The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors proclaimed February 2020 Sonoma County Children’s Dental Health month. The month-long observation, sponsored by the American Dental Association (ADA), promotes the benefits of good oral health for children.

This year’s event coincides with the publication of the 2019 Sonoma County Smile Survey Report.  The Smile Survey Report describes the findings from a countywide dental health survey that entails administering a basic dental health-screening exam of kindergarteners and third graders in randomly sampled elementary schools. The survey, conducted every five years beginning 2009 by the Sonoma County Health Services (DHS) Dental Health Program, allows the Department to assess the changing dental health of the county’s children.

The 2019 Smile Survey highlights many dental health improvements over the course of the past 10 years:

  • The percent of students with decay experience decreased significantly from 2009 to 2019 among third grade students and all surveyed students attending low-income schools. Low-income schools are defined as those with over 50 percent of students enrolled in the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program.
  • The need for urgent dental care decreased significantly for Hispanic/Latino students as well as all surveyed students attending low-income schools. Urgent dental care is defined as care neededwithin 24 to 48 hours because of signs or symptoms that include pain, infection or swelling.
  • The proportion of third graders with dental sealants, which are thin coatings applied to the chewing surface of molars to prevent decay, almost doubled from 2009 to 2019 for both White non-Hispanic as well as Hispanic/Latino students. 

Despite these positive findings, more than 4 in 10 Sonoma County children have tooth decay and significant disparities persist. Over the last five years the proportion of children with dental sealants actually decreased for all students, regardless of income or race/ethnicity from an all-time average high of 44 percent in 2014 to an average of 31 percent in 2019. Dental disease continues to affect some communities more than others. The survey found that approximately 6 out of every 10 children attending low-income schools, and 6 out of 10 Hispanic/Latino children have cavities. This reflects a rate that is twice that of White children and of those attending higher income schools, whose dental decay is evident in only 3 out of 10 children.

Dental disease is the most common unmet health need of children and the number one cause of school absences.  According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), California’s children miss 874,000 days of school due to dental problems.

Over the past decade many local partnerships forged, pilot projects launched, infrastructure investments conducted and preventive services delivered have yielded better dental health outcomes among the county’s young students.

“As more children receive preventive services to stop tooth decay before it starts, we will continue to see improvements to children’s oral health, overall health and well-being,” said Dr. Celeste Philip, Sonoma County Health Officer. “I am encouraged by the increase in preventive services offered at our community dental clinics through the Cavity-Free Sonoma Program. All children should enjoy good health.  When they have healthy teeth, children are better able to learn, play and grow to their full potential.”

The Cavity-Free Sonoma Program is one such initiative coordinated by the DHS Dental Health Program to decrease dental decay in children through preventive dental services, early diagnosis, standardized treatment and culturally appropriate health education and care coordination. Cavity-Free Sonoma represents a partnership with local Federally Qualified Health Centers throughout the county to provide personalized care coordination by bicultural and bilingual community health workers, known as “Tooth Fairies,” who deliver education and coaching for families to identify ways they can improve children’s dental health.

For more information, visit:

  1. Sonoma County Dental Health website: www.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Dental-Health/
  2. Cavity Free Sonoma website (English and Spanish): www.dentalisfundamental.com


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