Creating healthy habits in fostered youth: Working together to provide oral health education and outreach to foster care children in Wisconsin

By Megan Tenpas, Community Impact Manager at Delta Dental of Wisconsin

There are over 400,000 children and youth in foster care in the U.S., many of whom face various oral and overall health challenges. Nearly half of children in foster care have chronic medical problems, and a recent University of Minnesota study found that approximately 44% of youth with a history of foster care reported at least one dental problem (compared to 32.2% of youth with no experience of foster care). At the Delta Dental of Wisconsin Foundation, we're working to address these oral and overall health disparities for Wisconsin foster children. We're leading this initiative by taking measures to improve oral health education, as oral health literacy—the ability to access and understand information to make informed oral health care decisions—has been shown to lead to better oral and overall health outcomes.

Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) and Delta Dental of Wisconsin Foundation (Foundation) have teamed up to provide oral health care education and supplies to children in foster care and other LSS programs across the state. This partnership strategically aligns both organizations to create healthy habits in these youth while also reducing oral health disparities.

Through a grant from the Foundation, LSS will distribute oral health supplies and provide education to three target audiences served by LSS: the Birth to Three program, children in foster care, and boys participating in Homme Youth and Family programs. The Foundation staff created training materials and resources to educate staff on how to present the information to children, caregivers, and family members. Around 1,000 to 1,500 children will be impacted through this collaborative effort.

The Foundation will give each younger child a toothbrush and toothpaste, along with a timer to learn the importance of brushing for a full two minutes twice a day. Older children will receive oral care supplies and learn how habits created now will impact them for the rest of their lives, stressing the important connection between oral and overall health.

“We know education can change lives and improve oral health, but measuring that impact can be challenging,” said Megan Tenpas, community impact manager for the Foundation. “However, we also know the consequences of not educating children and creating these healthy habits early. This collaboration will be a great pilot to see the impact we can make.”