Oral Health

Oral health is an important part of general health and well-being for all Louisianans, from infants to older adults. Oral health means much more than just teeth, it also includes the gums, tongue, throat, jaw, lips, and supporting structures. Oral health is a key piece of overall healthy living. 

About the Program

The Oral Health Program works to: 

  • Prevent oral disease and improve the oral health of all Louisiana citizens regardless of age, race, or income level by identifying oral health problems and implementing innovative solutions to prevent and control these problems.

  • Partner with the Oral Health Coalition, the Fluoridation Advisory Board, and various community and professional organizations to improve oral health. In addition, the program collaborates with other DHH programs, including the Bureau of Primary Care and Rural Health, the Bureau of Family Health, the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program, the Nurse Family Partnership program, and the dental Medicaid programs, to ensure that children receive dental education and services. 

  • Provide oral health education and additional resources, including information on best practices in oral health.

  • Promote community water fluoridation by ensuring safe delivery of optimally fluoridated water, including implementing Act 761 (2008 Regular session).
  • Promote school-based and school-linked dental sealant programs.
  • Maintain an Oral Health Surveillance System to monitor the burden of oral disease in Louisiana.

Louisiana Seals Smiles

Dental sealants are thin, colorless, plastic coatings that are placed on teeth to prevent cavity formation. Teeth have tiny grooves and pits where bacteria can hide and damage the tooth's enamel. Sealants protect these grooves and pits from bacteria and help prevent cavities. While any tooth may receive a sealant, it is most common for children to have their 6-year-old and 12-year-old molars (first and second molars) sealed. 

The application of dental sealants is a quick, pain-free process. It first requires that the tooth be cleaned and prepared for the sealant. The sealant is then painted on the tooth surface, and the tooth is allowed to dry. After the sealant is placed, the tooth surface should look and feel the same as before. Sealants are very strong and should last for many years. The dentist will check the sealant at check-ups to make sure it is still intact. The sealant can be replaced with a new one as necessary.

Louisiana Seals Smiles

The Louisiana Oral Health Program operated a school-based dental sealant program, Louisiana Seals Smiles, school-based/linked program that targeted first, second, and sixth grade children in Louisiana.  The six-year program provided dental sealants and fluoride varnish to eligible children throughout the state free of charge while in their school settings. The program partnered with several key providers (The Health Enrichment Network, Health Centers in Schools, the University of Louisiana at Monroe, the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry, Primary Care Providers of East Feliciana, and Dental Caravan, Inc.) in 2014 to serve schools in various parishes of the state.  


During 2012-2015, a total of 7,824 children were screened and 4,283 received dental sealants in over fifteen parishes. Due to loss of funding, this program is not currently being operated.

Number of Children Who Received Preventative Dental Services 2012-2015



# Children Sealed













Source: Sealant Efficiency Assessment for Locals and States (SEALS) 2012-2015



Click here to learn more about Louisiana Seals Smiles.


Community Water Fluoridation

The safety and benefits of fluoride are well documented, and for 70 years people in the United States have benefited from drinking water with fluoride. Fluoridated water keeps our teeth strong and reduces decay by approximately 25%. This saves us money and helps us live better, healthier lives. For every dollar spent on community water fluoridation, up to $38 is saved in treatment costs for tooth decay.

In Louisiana only 43% of residents receive the benefits of community water fluoridation, compared to almost 75% nationally.  Does your parish have fluoridated water? Click here to find out! In 2008, Governor Jindal signed Act 761, which mandates that water systems with over 5,000 connections initiate water fluoridation. Learn which water systems are eligible for community water fluoridation here

In 1996, a study conducted in Louisiana found that Medicaid-eligible children who live in communities without fluoridation are three-times more likely to end up in the hospital to undergo dental treatment than Medicaid-eligible children living in fluoridated communities. The cost of dental treatment per Medicaid eligible child residing in a non-fluoridated community was approximately twice as high.

The Oral Health Program is working to increase access to optimally fluoridated water by working with partners and communities throughout the state.


Click here to learn more about Community Water Fluoridation.

Still have questions?

How Fluoride Works

Common Questions About Community Water Fluoridation

Fact Sheet

Oral Health Coalition

The Louisiana Statewide Oral Health Coalition is a voluntary collaborative made up of individuals and organizations from throughout the state who are dedicated to improving the oral health of all Louisianans. The first major effort of the Coalition was to create a state plan for improving the oral health of Louisiana residents. The state plan is a method to connect these agencies, improve upon their work, establish collaborations, and reach more of the state's population. Furthermore, the Coalition has made a commitment to improve oral health by utilizing evidence-based, best practices that will better use the resources at hand.


To coordinate the provision of information, resources, and services so that all people of all ages can have excellent oral health.


A Louisiana where people of all ages have excellent oral health.


How can I contribute?

The Coalition is always looking for new methods and ideas for oral health programs. Membership is open to any agency, organization, or individual who demonstrates an interest in oral health for Louisiana. Your membership is desired and valued.


Areas of Focus:

  • Access - Increase access to quality, comprehensive, and continuous oral health services for all Louisiana citizens throughout their life stages.
  • Education - Through the use of linguistically appropriate, culturally competent materials and methods, empower Louisiana citizens to improve their oral health by changing perceptions and increasing awareness of oral health and hygiene practices.
  • Prevention - Improve and maintain oral health, and prevent the progression of oral disease through interventions that address risk factors and at-risk populations.
  • Surveillance and Evaluation - Maintain and expand a statewide oral health surveillance system to monitor the status of oral disease in Louisiana, improve oral health outcomes through implementation of evidence based strategies, and guide policy changes that will improve oral health for all Louisiana citizens.
  • Workforce - Support the efforts to ensure the preparation, recruitment, and retention of an oral health workforce that is adequate and skilled, so that it may better serve the state's population.

How can I join?

Contact: LAOralHealthCoalition@LA.GOV



Louisiana Oral Health Updates

Oral disease is almost completely preventable, but it still affects children and adults throughout Louisiana every day. In addition, oral health has a direct impact on many other diseases and conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Gum disease in pregnant women is also associated with premature births and low birth weight.

There are safe and effective ways to prevent oral health disease that everyone can adopt. These include brushing twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste, drinking fluoridated water, not using tobacco products, eating healthy, and seeing a dentist regularly.


Louisiana Oral Health Fact Sheet


Smiles for Life


The Louisiana DHH Medicaid Fluoride Varnish Policy published in December 2011 requires physicians to complete the DHH “Smiles for Life” Certification in order to bill for fluoride varnish applications in offices.


DHH Medicaid Fluoride Varnish Policy

  • What is Fluoride Varnish? Fluoride varnish is a gel coating that is applied directly to the teeth to assist in preventing and potentially reversing cavities that have already began to develop. Cavities are the most common childhood disease, yet they are completely preventable.
  • How much is reimbursed? Louisiana Medicaid covers reimbursement to medical providers at $24.19[1] once every six months for the therapeutic application of topical fluoride varnish for patients age 6 months to 5 years with a moderate to high risk for caries. (Billable under procedure code D1206.)
  • What does it include? This HCPCS code represents application of the fluoride varnish, as well as performance of an oral health assessment, education of parents and anticipatory guidance. These services are considered inclusive and are not separately reimbursable.  HCPCS code D1206 is only reimbursable when performed on the same date of service as an office visit or preventive screening visit. Providers shall not require recipients to return to the office to receive the varnish application.
  • Who can apply fluoride varnish? The only disciplines that may apply the fluoride varnish are appropriate dental providers, physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses. Physicians are responsible to provide training to participating staff to ensure competency in fluoride varnish applications.

  • Who can be reimbursed?  Physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are eligible for reimbursement. In order to qualify, providers must review the "Smiles for Life" training module for fluoride varnish and successfully pass the post assessment.

“Smiles for Life” Certification Training (The physician must complete the one-time, one hour, online training to be eligible for reimbursement.):  Smiles for Life: A National Oral Health Curriculum, 3rd edition

Additional Oral Health Education Resources

Adults and Older Adults

Oral health is important for adults and older adults, yet it is often overlooked. There are a number of associations between common health conditions and oral health that may be surprising, such as diabetes, low self-esteem due to tooth loss, and osteoporosis to name only a few. 

Learn more about how to take care of your teeth, throughout your lifetime!


Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association (ADA)

School Nurses and Teachers

Healthy children learn more easily, and it is estimated that 51 million school hours are lost each year to dental-related illness. In addition, an estimated 17 million children in the U.S go without dental care each year. 

The classroom is a wonderful opportunity to teach children about the importance of oral health and staying healthy and active. Below are a number of resources available to help teachers and schools create a curriculum with activities and fun ways to teach children about oral health. 


School nurses can go to Smiles for Life for more resources on oral health and to do online training for continuing education credits. 

Smiles for Life: For Individual Clinicians


Dental and Medical Providers

Interested in participating in the Louisiana Dental Loan Program? Find more information here. 

Smiles for Life Bright Futures in Practice: Oral Health—Pocket Guide, 2nd Edition is designed to help health professionals implement specific oral health guidelines during pregnancy and postpartum, infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence, and it addresses risk assessment for dental caries, periodontal disease, malocclusion, and injury. Contact the Oral Health Program to receive a guide. 

Oral Health Data for Louisiana

Estimated Oral Health Prevalences in Louisiana


Dental Visit (%)

Adults aged 18+ who have visited a dentist or dental clinic in the past year
Complete Tooth Loss (%)

Adults 65+ who have lost all of their natural teeth due to tooth decay or gum disease
Partial Tooth Loss (%)

Adults 65+ who have lost six or more teeth due to tooth decay or gum disease

62.2 25.6 51.5
Male 59.1 23.7 51.3
64.9 26.9 51.6
18-24 66.2 n/a n/a
25-34 64.9 n/a n/a
35-44 61.5 n/a n/a
45-54 62.5 n/a n/a
55-64 61.0 n/a n/a
65+ 57.1 25.6 51.5
Caucasians 67.3 22.7 45.8
African 52.3 34.6 71.0
Americans Other
63.4 n/a n/a
< $15,000
34.1 43.6 75.4
$15,000-$24,999 44.6 31.9 59.2
56.1 24.5 55.8
$35,000-$49,999 63.0 15.5 40.6
$50,000+ 77.2 8.7 30.7
< High School
34.6 47.1 76.4
High School
55.6 29.3 59.4
Post-High School
66.6 16.8 41.8
College Degree
76.3 11.3 29.4


The Facts...

In 2011, there were 638 new cases of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx, and the death rate due to this condition was 3.8 per 100,000, giving Louisiana the second-highest rate in the United States (the national rate is 2.5 per 100,000).

An estimated 41.9% of third grade students have untreated tooth decay.

Only 43.4% of Louisiana residents receive fluoridated water compared to 74.6% nation wide.

Louisiana's rates for risk factors for oral and periodontal (gum) disease are also high. Among adults in Louisiana,

  • 10.9% have diabetes
  • 5% have cardiovascular disease
  • 23.5% are current smokers
  • 6.4% report heavy alcohol use

53 of 64 Louisiana parishes are designated as dental health professional shortage areas.


CDC Oral Health Data Indicators
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2012 Bright Smiles for Bright Futures – Basic Screening Survey
Download PDF »

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