The Oral Health Unit (OHU) at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) promotes oral health equity by preventing oral disease and enabling access to oral health care to ensure that everyone in Colorado can get the care they need to have the highest level of health possible. The OHU operates and supports key oral public health activities such as the implementation of oral health strategies through Regional Oral Health Specialists, community water fluoridation, and Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Oral Health Integration (DCVDOHI) by partnering with local public health agencies to support evaluation, surveillance, and much more.
This website was created and is maintained by the CDPHE OHU, with content contributed by and linked to partners across the state.
The work of the OHU is done through leveraging partnerships with a broad base of stakeholders, including medical and dental practitioners, state and local government agencies, community-based organizations, school districts, insurance companies, health systems, and more.
These partnerships are essential to increasing opportunities for communities, both urban and rural, to access oral health services where they live, saving costs and improving oral and overall health outcomes.
For more than seventy years, the OHU has worked to improve the oral health of all Coloradans, with a specific focus on underserved populations. The OHU is situated within the Health Access Branch of the Prevention Services Division at the CDPHE. Members of the Branch work to ensure access to high quality preventive and primary health care services and educational programs for medically underserved communities.
Colorado’s OHU was established in the 1940s. It was known as Colorado’s Public Health Dentistry Section before it was rebranded as the Oral Health Unit.
OHU activities are supported by federal, state, and philanthropic funding streams. The OHU works closely with a number of local foundations and community and network partners to implement oral disease preventive interventions, surveillance, and promotional programs to increase oral health access to an increasingly diverse population.
Oral Health Unit Programs
Cavity Free at Three
Cavity Free at Three (CF3) works to keep Colorado children free of dental disease. This evidence-informed program works with cross-sector partnerships to improve access to preventive oral health services for pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. The Cavity Free at Three model includes training for clinical teams on six essential services, including applying fluoride varnish, oral health education, and referrals for urgent oral health care needs. A Colorado-based study shows that four fluoride varnish applications before age three significantly decreased cavities. The program also offers technical support for billing and implementation.
School-Based Oral Health Programs
School-based dental sealant programs are a proven, cost-effective way to prevent cavities in children. A dental sealant is a thin plastic coating applied by a dentist or hygienist to children’s teeth. This coating protects the teeth from bacteria that can cause tooth decay. Families can save $632 in dental treatments, lost wages, and travel costs for every child who receives sealants. School-based sealant programs help families and schools by limiting the amount of time children spend outside of the classroom for dental care.
Community Water Fluoridation
More than 75 years of research has shown that community water fluoridation (CWF) is a safe and effective way to reduce cavities and improve oral and overall health. All Coloradans who live in communities with optimally fluoridated water benefit, regardless of age, education, or income. The Community Water Fluoridation Program helps ensure that community water systems provide drinking water with safe, effective levels of fluoride.
Regional Oral Health Specialists
The OHU also provides funding to four rural local public health agencies (LPHAs) to support a Regional Oral Health Specialist (ROHS) to plan and implement oral public health initiatives in their region. The initiatives the ROHS support and implement include school-based sealant programs, water fluoridation, coalition building, Cavity Free at Three trainings, and other oral health access programs and evidence-based oral health and chronic disease prevention initiatives tailored to their community needs. The ROHS coverage includes approximately 20 rural counties representing some of Colorado’s most underserved populations.
Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Oral Health Integration
The OHU has implemented a Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Oral Health Integration (DCVDOHI) model for medical and dental systems. The goal of this model is to increase diabetes and cardiovascular disease screening, bi-directional referral, and management outcomes in federally qualified health centers (FQHC) clinics providing oral health care to those at risk or living with comorbid conditions. The DCVDOHI model has provided tools, research, implementation plans, workflows, metrics, and lessons learned to practitioners in an iterative and evolving change package.
Dental Loan Repayment
The OHU supports the work of the Primary Care Office (PCO) in dental loan repayment for practitioners increasing access to oral health services in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). The Colorado Health Service Corps is a program administered by the PCO and receives state, federal, and private funding to help incentivize full- and part-time outpatient care practitioners, including dentists and dental hygienists. Click the link below to watch a video from the Colorado Health Service Corp Program.
OHU surveillance activities contribute oral health data to the VISION dashboard to track oral health interventions. This dashboard monitors oral disease burden, dental care access and utilization, and preventive systems and behaviors. The OHU collects, analyzes, and disseminates data to increase awareness of oral health issues and disparities, and to inform and support decision-making for oral health programs in Colorado. With these data, oral disease patterns can be monitored across sub-populations in Colorado to identify disparities, changes in the oral disease burden, and emerging trends in preventative behaviors and services. When high-risk groups or behaviors are identified, oral health programs and resources can be targeted appropriately.