Unmet Dental Needs in Children Following Suspension of School-Based Oral Health Services Due to COVID-19

Ryan R. Ruff, Tamarinda J. Barry Godín, Rachel Whittemore, Topaz Murray Small, Nydia Santiago-Galvin, Priyanka Sharma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Dental caries (tooth decay) is the world's most prevalent noncommunicable disease and can lead to pain, infection, and edentulism. Many children with caries lack access to traditional dental services. School-based caries prevention can increase access to care and reduce health inequities. Disruptions in school-based care due to pandemic control policies may result in children losing access to their primary dental care option. Methods: The CariedAway project was a school-based caries prevention program in operation from 2019 to 2023 in urban schools with a high proportion of low-income, minority students. Program operations were suspended for 2 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We estimated the prevalence of untreated decay, swelling, fistula, and pulpal involvement in participants at baseline and again after restrictions were lifted. Results: A total of 2998 children between the ages of 5 and 13 years were enrolled and received preventive care prior to pandemic shutdowns, and 1398 (47%) completed a follow-up observation after 2 years. At baseline, approximately 30% had untreated caries on any dentition, 11% of children presented with evidence of dental sealants, and no participants had swelling, fistula, or pulpal involvement. After 24 months, 12% of participants had swelling fistula, or pulpal involvement that was not treated during the pandemic period. Conclusion: There are considerable unmet dental needs in high-risk children that may be further exacerbated by a lack of access to care during disease outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-432
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of School Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024


  • child and adolescent health
  • chronic diseases
  • dental health
  • health services
  • school

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Philosophy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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