Newsroom > DHHS News Release

April 22, 2011

Leah Bucco-White, Communications and Legislative Services, (402) 471-9356 or

DHHS Office of Oral Health Distributes Dental Supplies to 6,600 Nebraska Children

Lincoln – The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Oral Health (OOH) has announced an ambitious new program to deliver vital dental supplies to 6,600 children across Nebraska.

The program, entitled Take Home Toothbrush, promotes good oral health practices to children enrolled in the 195 Head Start and Early Head Start programs from the classroom to their homes. The goal is to reduce the prevalence of dental cavities and other oral problems in low-income youth by sending home toothbrushes and toothpaste quarterly to Head Start enrollees.

“This program will create a foundation for good oral health in the future, a cornerstone of overall health,” said Dr. Joann Schaefer, the state’s Chief Medical Officer and Director of the Division of Public Health. “By putting the tools in the hands of Nebraska’s children, we hope to prevent future problems, such as severe tooth decay.”

The program hopes to remedy the severe disparities in oral health services by working to overcome the effects of uneven distribution of dentists across Nebraska. Presently, 53 of Nebraska’s 93 counties have either inadequate or non-existent access to dental care. According to a report of the Nebraska Dental Workforce Committee, the two most populated counties in Nebraska, Douglas and Lancaster, account for 56% of the dental workforce, creating per capita values much higher than the rest of the state. The Nebraska Governor’s Rural Health Advisory Commission has designated 53 counties in the state as Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas. As of April 2008, 20 counties reported having no dentist, and an additional 32 counties have only one or two dentists.

“Every child at Head Start brushes their teeth at least once a day during school hours and we are impressed with Head Start’s dedication to improving the oral health of young children. We want to be sure that the children have sufficient supplies at home so that every child can continue brushing their teeth at home,” said Dr. Kären Sorenson, Dental Director for the Office of Oral Health.

“Head Start has always recognized the importance that a healthy mouth has – a child with severe dental disease is not ready to learn. They can’t concentrate or focus if they have pain in their mouth,” she said.

DHHS received a three-year grant in 2009 of $1.5 million from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to find ways to improve dental care for children under eight, including the Take Home Toothbrush program.

Since 1949, the DHHS Office of Oral Health has sought to improve the lives of Nebraskans by promoting preventative oral care, particularly in young children. The Head Start program is a federal program started in 1964 that provides grants to local public and private non-profit and for-profit agencies to provide comprehensive child development services to economically disadvantaged children and families.

For more information, contact the Office of Oral Health at 402-471-2101 or