School Nurses Lead the Charge for Good Oral Health in Schools

Phil Santucci, DDS, MS


School nurses have a big job. Whether treating a scraped knee or taking care of a student with the flu or any number of other ailments, these trained professionals are on the front lines to watch after thousands at their respective schools.

But what happens when a dental emergency happens during school hours? Chipped teeth, craniofacial injuries, or, as children get into their teenage years, orthodontic issues happen. Many times, school nurses are not trained or equipped to treat these emergencies. So what can dental professionals do to help these nurses? Train them.

One-fifth to one-third of all children are affected by dental injuries by age 12, and the prevalence of dental injuries continues to increase throughout adolescence. In most middle schools, students have braces, expanders, bite correctors, headgear, clear aligners, or elastics. Children spend up to half of their waking hours in school, so it is not surprising that school nurses deal with a plethora of dental emergencies throughout a typical day.

Oral health is essential to a child’s general health. Poor oral health can negatively affect how a young mouth develops and can imperil a child’s confidence, social skills, and potential success later in life. Dental disease causes students nationwide to miss out on 50 million hours of school each and every year.  

Registered professional school nurses assess, intervene, and follow up with students. They see to it that lingering medical and dental disease doesn’t hamper students’ ability to learn, always cognizant of their mental, social, and emotional well-being. School nurses truly are frontline heroes, caring for the public health of school children.

With the goal of keeping kids healthy and equipping school nurses with the confidence to handle these sorts of emergencies, I recently teamed up with Delta Dental of Arizona (DDAZ) to host an interactive seminar on dental emergencies for school nurses at the Annual School Nurses Organization of Arizona (SNOA) Conference. 

One concern identified in our discussion was that some school nurses lacked the tools that make dealing with dental or orthodontic emergencies easier. Fortunately, DDAZ agreed to assemble, purchase, and distribute emergency kits to more than 100 schools in Arizona that had expressed the need.

As a board member of the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation, I contribute to and support the work DDAZ is doing to expand awareness, education, and access to care. This locally headquartered company funds oral health programs in communities across the state that help keep children in school and free of dental disease.  

I welcomed this opportunity to sit down with school nurses from around the state, and it was both rewarding and enlightening as I learned of the varied medical and dental issues they deal with on a daily basis. It’s not just “boo-boos” and sniffles.

So if you are a dental professional, I would challenge you to reach out to a school district in your area, or school nursing association in your state, to see if they may benefit from a crash course on how to handle dental emergencies to avoid further oral health issues and keep these children in the classroom. 

Dr. Santucci is a board-certified orthodontist practicing in Phoenix, Arizona. He received his DDS from Indiana University and his MS in orthodontics from the Center for Advanced Dental Education at St. Louis University. He is an adjunct professor in orthodontics at the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health. He also sits on the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation board. He can be reached at or (480) 948-8618.

Related Articles

Nurse Practitioners Can Play a Greater Role in Oral Healthcare

Dentists and Nurses Collaborate for Systemic Healthcare

School-Based Hygiene Programs Prove Effective