Oral Health

Oral Health Vision:

“All children have access to quality oral health services in their communities and a new culture of awareness exists throughout the state about the interconnection of oral health and overall health.”


The prevalence of untreated tooth decay declined to 22% (2013-2014), down from 30% in the previous decade (2003-2004), and the number of children with sealants has almost doubled. However, one in five children has untreated tooth decay and access to pediatric oral health care is inadequate in Illinois. Only two-thirds of privately insured children and just over half (55%) of Medicaid covered children reported having seen a dentist in 2013. Visit the interactive website to learn more about the status of Children’s Oral Health in Illinois.

Since Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation (ILCHF) began funding in 2004, it has supported children’s oral health programs as part of a larger funding strategy to make comprehensive health services available to all children in Illinois. In response to the Foundation’s early findings that children’s oral health was one of the most pressing, unmet health care issues facing children of Illinois, ILCHF launched the Children’s Oral Health Initiative in 2007.

Oral health is an indivisible component of health and well-being. Access to quality oral health services is essential to the well-being of children of all ages. Children need quality oral health care, including routine dental care. While tooth decay and oral diseases are among the most prevalent chronic health problems in the United States and in Illinois, the good news is that most oral health disease is preventable or treatable.

The Foundation realizes that its efforts alone are not responsible for improving children’s oral health in Illinois. Through the efforts of so many committed, hardworking and passionate champions, there has been great momentum. We would like to thank our partners for all their work, advice and guidance over the past few years.Working together, we can improve the lives of children in Illinois.

Grant Making Strategies

Build and Strengthen the Capacity of the Safety Net System

Since 2007, ILCHF released specific Requests for Proposals that were designed to increase access to oral health care by establishing new services or expanding existing services in a clinical setting or implementing a community oral health planning process. In 2016, ILCHF approved 13 Capacity Building Proposals totaling just over $4 million.

In an effort to support and maintain the Foundation’s investments in expanded capacity, two Requests for Proposals (2009, 2010) were designed and released to reduce barriers preventing children from receiving optimal levels of comprehensive oral health care. (This funding was offered to past and current ILCHF oral health recipients.) Two basic categories of barriers were identified: equipment and enhancements/electronic health records and public education/awareness.

Increase the number of oral health professionals caring for underserved children

The Foundation conducted extensive research and developed the ILCHF Pipeline Project. Multi-year commitments were made to Southern Illinois University of Dental Medicine and University of Illinois, College of Dentistry to better prepare dentists to provide care to underserved populations of children throughout the state. In an effort to evaluate and document the Pipeline Project activities over multiple years, the Foundation contracted with the Center for Urban Research & Learning at Loyola University.

To broaden the scope of oral health services provided to children and engage non-traditional health care providers, the Foundation has funded a multi-year public/private partnership commitment to the “Bright Smiles from Birth” project spearheaded by the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (ILCAAP). The goal of the project is to reduce the incidence of early childhood caries and secure dental homes for Illinois children by helping primary care practice systems better address oral health through service delivery, patient education and referral. As a result the application of fluoride varnish is a reimbursable service through IDHFS.

Create a greater awareness of the role that oral health plays on a child’s overall health

The focus of creating awareness has been centered around activities undertaken by community-based organizations within their respective communities (i.e. the Foundation did not provide funding for a statewide media campaign). The Foundation has provided funding for outreach, awareness and direct education. Additionally, the Foundation implemented training and networking opportunities for oral health stakeholders throughout the state of Illinois.

Statewide Children’s Oral Health Assessment

Understanding the importance of quality oral health care for all Illinoisans and data driven decision making, ILCHF in partnership with Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation and the Michael Reese Health Trust, published Oral Health in Illinois. The report is a comprehensive assessment of the oral health system in Illinois. The report was paired with a website funded by Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation which is a repository for all of the data from the study and will be continually updated.

Visit the interactive website to learn more about the status of Children’s Oral Health in Illinois.

Lessons Learned

The Importance of Planning

The need for extensive planning before a project is implemented is invaluable. Examples include a thorough needs assessment process, one that involves community-wide engagement and buy-in. Planning is also important in creating staffing models as well as creating a sustainable business model with key input from the organization’s leadership team as well as board level support.

“Think big! Plan and prepare for overwhelming need in the dental arena!” -Cass County Health Department

Develop Effective Collaborations within the Community

Collaborations can result in increased resources. Collaborations are also important in developing a network of referrals for specialty care as well as a means to provide awareness of services and education on the importance of oral health. ͞

“The biggest lesson we learned is the importance of creating partnerships in order to best serve the community. We have created significant partnerships with the schools, local health departments and local specialists willing to serve Medicaid patients.” –Community Health Care Inc.

Oral Health Education and Outreach is Essential

Education and outreach is essential to the success of a clinic and increasing the proper oral health of children. Parents and caregivers must recognize the importance of proper oral health on the overall health of children in order for them to access care beyond school requirements and emergencies. Parents/caregivers and children must be taught proper oral health maintenance as well as the importance of proper diet and nutrition.

“Oral health education should be an integral part of any dental program. We will never be able to break the cycle of dental neglect without educating parents and their children on the importance of preventive care.” -The Children’s Clinic

Include Data Collection and Evaluation from the Start

Data collection and evaluation is a vital component of a successful practice. Having the capacity to track children’s progress benefits the child directly as well as provides data for additional resources. Additionally it determines best practices and increases the quality of service provision. Through the implementation of electronic dental records, data can be easily accumulated and analyzed.

“Providers should include a data collection plan as part of the original planning process. Erie found a sound evaluation and data collection plan to be an integral component of the success of our program. This plan allowed Erie to clearly identify areas of success and areas in need of improvement, which often required system change.” -Erie Family Health Center


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Current RFPs

Grant Spotlight: ILCHF and Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation Announce New Oral Health Nitrous Oxide Sedation Initiative

(Oak Brook, IL) – February 2, 2022 – The Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation (ILCHF) and Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation announce the creation of the Oral Health Nitrous Oxide Sedation Initiative, a new oral health program aimed at improving the oral health of children in Illinois. Both foundations are contributing $500,000 each in funding for programs designed to enable safety net dental clinics to safely administer nitrous oxide to children requiring conscious sedation for oral health services.   
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News & Publications

Healthy Minds, Healthy Children, Healthy Chicago

Spring 2020 Commitment. Community. Collaboration. Change. These four Cs were the vision for ILCHF as it pursued the goal of developing models for integrated children’s mental health in the Healthy Minds, Healthy Children, Healthy Chicago initiative. (Full Report)
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Children’s Mental Health Initiative (CMHI 1.0)

December 2018 The Children’s Mental Health Initiative, Building Systems of Care, Community by Community (CMHI 1.0) was designed to enable four communities to find local solutions to these critical challenges. (Full Report)
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