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Nearly half of states receive failing grade on dental sealant programs in schools

Jan 22, 2013

More school-based dental sealant programs needed
Photo Source: Central Minnesota Pediatric Dentists

North Carolina was recently ranked in the bottom five of states by a charitable trust group based on their scarcity of school-based dental sealant programs.  

In a study conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Dental Campaign, fewer than 25 percent of high-need North Carolina schools offer dental sealant programs. But the Tar Heel state is not alone because nearly half of all states earned a “D” or “F” based on Pew’s survey criteria.

Apparently school-based programs are preferred for the application of dental sealants for children because they are believed to be the most effective means of getting under-served families to participate.

Just what is a dental sealant? A dental sealant is a liquefied plastic, either white or clear, placed on the chewing surfaces of back teeth.  Sealants help prevent food particles from becoming trapped and growing bacteria by bonding into the depressions and fissures of a tooth.  They are used primarily for children and teens, although adults can use them, too.

The application of sealants is a quick procedure that costs about one-third of filling a molar. A typical sealant application costs about $45.

The Pew Study showed that 34 percent of children from average to higher income households nationwide have had sealant treatments but the number drops to 26 percent in lower-income families.

“Oral health problems not only can be painful but are linked to lower academic scores and additional physical problems,’ says Jane Koppelman, senior officer for the Pew dental campaign.

North Carolina says a screening of the state’s fifth graders during the 2009-10 school year showed that 44 percent had sealants on one or more teeth.

“We don't have the resources to provide sealants to all these kids, but we have been educating parents since the mid-1980s and trying to encourage them to take children to their own dentists to get them," says Rebecca King, Chief of the North Carolina Oral Health section at the State Department of Health and Human Services.

North Carolina screened more than 80,000 fifth-graders for dental problems in the 2009-10 school year. Some students were referred for follow-up care to outside agencies, and 11,200 were provided direct care that included 5,100 sealant treatments.  The state provides screenings and limited dental care to fifth-grade students annually.

The budget for the North Carolina’s oral health program is $5.3 million after cuts of $1.4 million were made in 2009.  State sources contributed three-fourths of the funding while Medicaid accounted for 35 percent.

Sources: McClatchy News, The Pew Charitable Trusts, WebMD, North Carolina Oral Health


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