Kindergarten starts soon. You have your backpack, your lunch box and your colored pencils, but have you had your dental exam?
California law AB1433 requires a dental screening for all first-year school children. It was signed into law in 2006, yet much confusion remains as to how exactly all these young scholars shall be screened and who shall screen them.
The California Dental Association sponsored this legislation as a way to help identify children who were “slipping through the cracks” of dental care. When it was signed into law there was much rejoicing in the ranks of the dental profession, until (as I like to imagine it happened) someone asked, “Did anyone figure out how exactly we are going to do this?”
Therein lies the confusion that has lasted now into the law’s third school year from the time of its implementation.
Let’s see if we can shed some light on the subject.
First and foremost, let’s get specific about what is required for the screening. A screening is not a full exam. It is a simple visual exam of a child’s teeth to assess if there are any visible cavities. The screening form is then filled out noting if the child has any visible dental needs and signed, which completes the school requirement. Parents should understand that a dental screening does not take the place of a comprehensive exam with x-rays and that no treatment will be planned from a screening.
If your child has had a regular dental exam in the last 12 months, you are set. Whoever completed the exam can fill out the form for you from their records and an office visit is not required. If you should need a copy of the form it can be printed from the CDA’s website.
What if your child has not had a dental exam? You need to find a “licensed dental professional” who will screen your child. One misconception is that this means a dentist has to sign the form. While that is ideal, the screening can also be filled out by a hygienist or a registered dental assistant (if the assistant works with a licensed dentist).
Do you have to pay for the screening? That’s a tricky question. “CDA encourages members to consider offering to screen the child … without charge … as a public service.” Just because something is suggested, doesn’t mean you have to do it. Also, not all dentists are members of the CDA, so I’m sure somewhere you could find a dentist who would charge you for the screening. That being said, I personally don’t charge for the screenings and I haven’t run into any dentist that does, but you should ask up front if the screening is free or not.
What do you do if you are having trouble finding someone to screen your child? The two best resources in our area for dental information are the Northern California Dental Society (our local sub-chapter of the CDA) and Shasta Community Health Dental Clinic. Readers from further abroad (yet still in the state) can go to the CDA’s website, go to the Oral Health Requirement link and then the Help Finding Dental Care link. One of these should be able to help you find a dental professional that can screen your future honor roll student.