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This page provides information for the health care team on safety net dental care programs in Ohio, which can be sources for making referrals for dental care. The Safety Net Dental Programs section also provides information about Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas in Ohio and loan repayment programs for dentists and dental hygienists.

You will also find resources and training materials on oral health topics for dental and medical professionals, teachers and those who work with Head Start programs.  

Safety Net Dental Programs

About Safety Net Dental Programs

The dental “safety net” includes public dental clinics, school-based dental care and mobile/portable dental care programs. Safety net clinics provide dental care to patients covered by Medicaid, and offer sliding-fees, reduced fees or free care to patients who can't afford to pay a private dentist. These clinics are mostly run by local health departments, health centers, hospitals and other organizations. 

The Ohio Department of Health maintains a list of the safety net dental programs in Ohio and a printable brochure.

Safety net clinics are usually located in areas that don’t have enough dentists to serve people with lower incomes; these areas are called Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas.

The Ohio Department of Health provides funding to several of Ohio's safety net dental clinics to help offset the cost of uncompensated care. Funding supports dental services for Ohioans who have low incomes and are uninsured for dental care.

Currently funded agencies are listed below. 

                                                          Safety Net Dental Care Grants

                           Calendar Year 2023 (Jan. 3, 2023 to Dec. 31, 2023) Year 1 of 3






Erie County Health Department



PrimaryOne Health



Cincinnati Health Department



Mercy Health – Youngstown



Third Street Family Health Services


Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas in Ohio

A dental health professional shortage area (HSPA) is a geographic area where there aren’t enough dentists to serve the dental needs of the people living there. The designation is used primarily for the purposes of giving loan repayment to dentists and dental hygienists. Visit the HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) Health Workforce page for more information about these programs.

An area must meet three requirements to become a HPSA:

• The area must be defined as a “rational service area,” meaning that the area must be homogenous and logical in terms of demographics, socio-economics and physical barriers. Often, rural HPSAs are defined either by county or a group of townships. Urban HPSAs are described by defined neighborhoods or groups of census tracts.

• A specific dentist-to-population ratio for each type of HPSA must be met.

• The application for the HPSA must verify that there are not enough dental services available in neighboring areas for the population seeking the designation.

Requests for dental HPSA designations can be made at any time. Each designation is periodically updated. 

A map of the Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HSPAs) and safety net dental programs in Ohio. For more detailed information (e.g., townships or census tracts contained in each HPSA), access the national Health Professional Shortage Area database maintained by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.

For more information, please contact:

Ohio Department of Health
Primary Care Office
246 N. High St.
Columbus, Ohio  43215

Telephone: (614) 644-8496
Fax:    (614) 564-2432
Email: HealthPolicy@odh.ohio.gov

Loan Repayment Programs

General and pediatric dentists and dental hygienists who work in areas without enough dentists and dental hygienists can apply for repayment of school loans related to their professional training. 

The goal of the Ohio Dentist Loan Repayment Program (ODLRP) and the Ohio Dental Hygienist Loan Repayment Program (ODHLRP) is to increase access to dental care for underserved communities and populations. In exchange for loan repayment assistance, dentists and dental hygienists commit to practice for a minimum of two years at an eligible site in a Dental Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) or Dental Health Resource Shortage Area, accept Medicaid, and see patients regardless of ability to pay.

For the first two-year contract, selected full-time applicants practicing a minimum of 40 hours per week may receive up to $25,000 annually for repayment of outstanding dental or dental hygiene school debt. Those who remain at their practice sites and maintain eligibility may receive up to $35,000 annually for a third and fourth year of service. Part-time participants practicing between 20 and 39 hours per week may receive up to half the amount of full-time participants.

Provider Eligibility

The following dental providers are eligible:

  • Currently practicing general and pediatric dentists and dental hygienists with educational loans
  • Dental residents in the final year of pediatric or general practice residency or in advanced education in general dentistry programs
  • Dental and dental hygiene students enrolled in the final year of dental or dental hygiene school

If applicants have existing obligations to a government or other entity, the obligations must be met prior to beginning a loan repayment contract. 

Practice Site Eligibility

Practice sites must be located in a Dental HPSA or Dental Health Resource Shortage Area, accept Medicaid and accommodate all patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Free Clinics may contact ODH at the phone number or e-mail address below to determine their eligibility as an ODLRP or ODHLRP practice site.

For more information:

Ohio Department of Health
Primary Care Office
246 N. High St.
Columbus, Ohio  43215

Telephone: (614) 644-8508
Email: PCRH@odh.ohio.gov


Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

Are you you talking to your patients and their parents/caregivers about HPV and the vaccine to prevent it? The American Academy of Pediatrics has developed a fact sheet to help health professionals learn about HPV and recommend the vaccine. Read the 5 key points that dental professionals need to know about oropharyngeal cancer and HPV prevention.

Cultural Competency

Cultural Competency Program for Oral Health Professionals is an online module developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health to provide the dental team with basic knowledge and skills in cultural and linguistic competency.

National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center (NMCOHRC)

The National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center (NMCOHRC) maintains online access to an extensive array of oral health materials, such as standards, guidelines, proceedings, curricula, reports and fact sheets.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Oral Health is the lead federal agency responsible for promoting oral health through public health interventions. The CDC offers a variety of fact sheets, guidelines, scientific articles and recommendations on oral health topics. 

The CDC also provides information on infection control for the dental health care workforce. Please visit the website for up-to-date information on infection control recommendations.

American Dental Association (ADA)

The American Dental Association (ADA) Center for Evidence-based Dentistry offers clinical recommendations and systematic reviews on a wide array of topics that provide dentists and dental hygienists with information useful in making evidence-based treatment decisions. 


Question: Why is it important for medical professionals to know about oral health?

Answer: The mouth is part of the body!

We’re learning more about the relationship between oral health and systemic health across the lifespan. Among adults, we know:

  • People with periodontal disease (inflammation of the gums and bone surrounding the teeth) who also have diabetes will face more difficultly controlling blood sugar levels.
  • Poor oral health is linked to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Certain medications or treatments for systemic diseases can have a profound impact on the health of the mouth.

Among children, dental disease also has a big impact on overall health and development. Recent national data indicate that more than half of children ages 6-8 years have experienced tooth decay, and disparities in tooth decay persist among some race and ethnic groups. Access to dental care remains a problem for many young children, especially those from low-income families. 

Children younger than 2 years of age are much more likely to get checkups by a primary medical care provider such as a physician or nurse practitioner than to go to a dentist. Because of this, it makes sense for these professionals to know about dental diseases in young children and how to prevent them.

Oral Health Integration and Pregnancy

Oral health should be a routine part of prenatal care as poor oral health can lead to poor health outcomes for the mother and her baby. Up to 75% of women develop gingivitis during pregnancy due primarily to hormonal changes. Left unchecked, gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease (PD) which affects up to 40% of all pregnant women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PD has also been associated with poor pregnancy outcomes, including preterm birth and low birth weight. However, how PD may lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes is not yet fully understood. More certain is that women are at-risk for tooth decay during pregnancy due to changes in eating habits, frequent bouts of morning sickness, and possibly less attention being paid to their oral hygiene practices.

The oral health of mothers directly impacts the oral health of their children. Babies are not born with the bacteria that cause tooth decay in their mouths. Those bacteria are transmitted, usually by the mother, through kissing, the use of shared eating utensils, or other common behaviors. Mothers who have a high number of untreated cavities have a high level of decay-causing bacteria and transmit high levels of the bacteria to their children, which then puts them at higher risk for cavities themselves. To impact the number of young children who develop tooth decay, efforts must be directed to ensure that pregnant women have good oral health and know how to positively impact their children’s oral health from birth.

The Ohio Department of Health provides funding to several Ohio public or nonprofit agencies or healthcare facilities that provide prenatal health care services in outpatient settings to women who may be considered at higher risk for dental disease. Subrecipients funded for the Oral Health Integration Into Prenatal Care Program train their prenatal providers to complete oral health assessments, provide oral health education, and provide referral to a dental clinic. In addition, subrecipients provide case management to their prenatal patients to facilitate the referral process.

Currently funded agencies and facilities are listed below.

                                Oral Health Integration Into Prenatal Care Program Grants

                                         Grant Year 2022-23 (Oct. 1, 2022 to Sept. 30, 2023)       






Nationwide Children's Hospital Teen and Pregnant Program



PrimaryOne Health



Third Street Family Health Services


The Oral Health Program has developed Oral Health and Pregnancy – Fact Sheet for Health Care Providers that discusses why oral health is important during pregnancy and what providers can do to help patients have good oral health during pregnancy. The fact sheet also offers a list of references.

Training and Resources

Smiles for Life, developed by the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, is an interactive oral health curriculum designed for primary care clinicians. Its seven modules cover the relationship of oral to systemic health, child oral health, adult oral health, dental emergencies, oral health in pregnancy, fluoride varnish and the oral examination. Medical providers can be reimbursed for the application of fluoride varnish for children enrolled in Medicaid. See details on the Fluoride Varnish tab on the Preventing Oral Diseases webpage.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has launched its new Children's Oral Health website that provides easy-to-use oral health practice tools, resources, education and training for pediatricians and other health care professionals.

Oral Care Basics for Caregivers is a 21-minute instructional video/DVD and booklet for direct-care providers in group homes, nursing homes or home-care settings and can be purchased for $6.

The National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center (NMCOHRC) offers training and resource materials for medical professionals.

2018 Guidelines for Oral Health Screening in Ohio's Schools provides school nurses and other school staff with information about oral screening at school, procedures for conducting a screening and resources. A single copy of the guidelines and pocket guide can be ordered by completing this order form. Please be advised that these guidelines do not reflect the current recommendations for doing a dental screening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please contact the Oral Health Program for additional guidance.

Dental Emergency Guide

The Ohio Department of Health Dental Emergency Guide outlines procedures for giving dental first aid following a head or mouth injury.



MouthHealthyKids.org has information for the public on a variety of oral health topics plus ideas for many activities aimed at teaching about the importance of good oral health. Resources are also available for educators to help with classroom teaching about oral health, such as discussion ideas and presentations.

The Ohio Department of Health Dental Emergency Guide outlines procedures for giving dental first aid following a head or mouth injury. This guide is important to display in classrooms, near the playground and in the school nurse's office.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) requires all licensed early childhood education programs to post the Dental First-aid Chart in all classrooms. This chart outlines the procedures for giving dental first aid following a head or mouth injury and has a place at the bottom for providers to enter the name and phone number of a dentist who can be contacted in case of an emergency.

Dental Disease Prevention Programs in Ohio Schools

How to Select an Oral Health Care Program for Your School

School administrators and school nurses often ask questions regarding oral health care delivery within a school setting. This document is designed to help guide schools into choosing the type of oral health care program that will best meet the needs of their students and communities.

School-based Dental Sealant Program

Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings applied to permanent molar teeth to prevent the most common type of tooth decay on the chewing surfaces of permanent (adult) molars.  The Ohio Department of Health awards grants to fund school-based dental sealant programs (SBSPs) and some programs are locally-funded. In 2020, SBSPs are serving schools in 46 of Ohio's 88 counties. For more information about sealants and SBSPs, including a map of counties that currently have programs, please visit the Dental Sealants tab on the Preventing Oral Diseases Web page. A two-page fact sheet about SBSPs is also available.

Head Start Programs

The goal of Head Start is to improve school readiness of children from low-income families. School readiness depends in part on a child's health, including his or her oral health. Head Start performance standards state that each child's oral health status must be determined early in the school year and diagnostic and treatment services must be provided while the child is enrolled.

The Oral Health Program provides training, technical assistance and resources to those who work with Head Start programs on how to implement oral health performance standards.

  • The Ohio Head Start Association, Inc. (OHSAI) is the membership organization for Ohio Head Start programs. It offers training and technical assistance to Head Start administrators, staff and parents.
  • The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) requires licensed Head Start programs to post the Dental First-aid Chart in all classrooms. This chart outlines the procedures for giving dental first aid following a head or mouth injury and has a place at the bottom for Head Start staff to enter the name and phone number of a dentist who can be contacted in case of an emergency.