Many primary & secondary schools across the United States (& in some other countries) require students to have a dental exam before they finish certain grade levels.
Most schools will not prevent a child from attending class if they don’t get the required exam, or if a dentist determines their oral health makes them unfit to attend school. However, other penalties may be placed on the child or parents in these situations. For example, if proof of the required dental exam isn’t provided, schools may withhold the child’s report card, which could make it hard for the student to move on the the next grade or matriculate.
The exams required by most schools are mainly focused on finding tooth decay-related problems, or “any other condition that interferes with a student’s ability to chew, speak or focus on school activities.”[source] This type of exam is already part of your child’s regular checkup at the dentist, so if your child already visits the dentist regularly, you will probably not have to make a new appointment for the school required dental exam. School-required exams usually do not involve x-rays (radiographs).
Children’s oral health can have a big impact on their early lives, their later health, & even on their academic success. A report on the implementation of the Illinois law that requires dental exams for schoolchildren stated:
An estimated 51 million school hours per year are lost because of dental-related illness. Poor oral health has been related to decreased school performance, poor social relationships, and less success later in life. Children experiencing pain are distracted and unable to concentrate on schoolwork. Children should enter school free from dental problems. [source]
Some states also collect data (confidentially & anonymously) from the results of these exams. Putting all this data from different schools & grades together gives them a good idea of how well the teeth of children in the community are being cared for.
The state of Illinois requires a dental exam for Kindergarten, 2nd Grade & 6th Grade students. Other states with similar requirements include New York, Kentucky, West Virginia, & Oregon. State-enforced requirements usually apply to all schools, including public, private & parochial (religious) schools. Some local governments (such as county or city) & even some school districts may require dental exams for students even if it isn’t mandated by state law.
If you don’t know whether your child’s school requires a dental health screening, the best way to find out would be to contact the school directly & ask. Children who do not yet have a regular dentist that they go to can often get recommendations from their school of local dentists who can help.
If your child’s school does require a dental screening, make sure you mention this at your child’s next dental exam so the dentist knows to fill out & provide you with the appropriate form certifying your child has been examined.