CDC Oral Health Division

March 1, 2011
Often, when we think of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) we think of our government's response to incidents of biological terrorism ...

by Christine Nathe, RDH, MS
[email protected]

Often, when we think of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) we think of our government's response to incidents of biological terrorism or outbreaks of infectious disease, such as the recent instances of salmonella enteritidis contracted from chicken eggs, and E. coli illness from consumption of beef and cookie dough. In reality, the CDC's work also addresses chronic disease prevention and health promotion, which includes promoting oral health and preventing oral disease.

The Division of Oral Health within the CDC focuses on preventing dental caries and periodontal diseases and reducing oral and pharyngeal cancers, along with providing infection control recommendations to prevent disease transmission in dental settings. The specific mission of the division is to prevent and control oral diseases and conditions and reduce disparities by building the knowledge, tools, and networks that promote healthy behaviors and effective public health practices and programs. The division envisions a nation where all people enjoy good oral health that contributes to healthy and satisfying lives.1

The CDC reaches these goals in a variety of ways, including providing support for state oral health programs. The division also supports research to examine community-level prevention strategies by:

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of interventions in preventing and controlling oral disease.
  • Identifying the most cost effective and efficient ways to deliver interventions.
  • Reviewing the published scientific evidence in a systematic way to determine successful interventions.

Examples of such research include examining the evidence for effectiveness of community water fluoridation, evaluating different strategies for providing dental sealants through schools, and identifying factors potentially connected to community decisions on whether or not to fluoridate.

In the past year, the CDC provided new recommendations related to school-based dental sealant programs. School sealant programs target vulnerable children in high-risk schools (where a large percentage are eligible for the federal Free and Reduced Cost Lunch Program) who are at risk for decay and untreated decay. The recommendations were developed to complement services delivered in private dental practices and clinics, and address clinicians' concerns about school programs, including the risk for sealing over incipient decay, sealant application methods, and follow-up.2

The CDC also provides technical assistance to state programs on community water fluoridation. This includes training for managers of state community water fluoridation programs, engineering technical support, and providing the Water Fluoridation Reporting System (WFRS) to help manage state water fluoridation programs. CDC also promotes the appropriate use of other fluoride products to prevent tooth decay. One example is the Brush Up on Healthy Teeth educational materials that provide parents with information on the appropriate use of fluoride toothpaste for children.

These materials are available in both English and Spanish. All materials developed by the federal government may be reproduced for use with your patients. Visit

The CDC is also responsible for monitoring the occurrence of oral diseases and conditions, the use of preventive measures such as dental sealants, and other factors that can influence oral health, such as dental visits. These can be viewed on the Web site of the National Oral Health Surveillance System at NOHSS is a useful tool for dental hygienists when studying the prevalence of dental disease and the care system in individual states.

A related component of the CDC Web site is the Synopses of State and Territorial Dental Public Health Programs. Jointly provided with the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors, the synopses provide state-by-state information on population, state oral health infrastructure and programs, and the dental workforce. The information can assist dental hygienists when they assess a population for oral health and dental needs and subsequent program development.

The CDC also investigates disease transmission in the dental office and identifies emerging issues. Many dental hygienists actively refer to the published guidelines and related infection control information that CDC provides for dental health-care professionals. Go to

Most recently, the CDC joined with five other federal agencies and the Offices of Minority Health and Women's Health in the historic Oral Health Initiative 2010 of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The goal of this initiative is to expand oral health services, education, and research in the United States to improve the nation's oral health. This will be achieved by emphasizing oral health promotion/disease prevention, increasing access to care, strengthening the oral health workforce, and eliminating oral health disparities.

"Many dental hygienists are in a position to promote the importance of oral health in their communities," states Dr. Barbara Gooch, a dental officer and acting associate director for science with CDC's Division of Oral Health. "The CDC's resources provide dental hygienists and other oral health professionals with information they can use to support public health efforts, such as community water fluoridation and school-based dental sealant programs."

The division recently worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide proposed new recommendations on community water fluoridation The recommendations can be found at

Remember to utilize these great resources when promoting oral health in your community!



2. Gooch BF, Griffin SO, Gray SK, et al. Preventing dental caries through school-based sealant programs: Updated recommendations and reviews of evidence. J Am Dent Assn 2009;140(11):1356–1365.

CDC Division of Oral Health Core Activities

● Supports state oral health programs
● Supports research that examines prevention strategies
● Monitors oral health
● Provides a dental public health residency program for dentists
● Issues infection control guidelines
● Promotes evidence-based prevention interventions, including community water fluoridation and school-based dental sealant programs

Christine Nathe, RDH, MS, is a professor and graduate program director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also the author of "Dental Public Health Research" (, which is in its third edition with Prentice Hall. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.

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