Report highlights shortcomings in states’ dental sealant efforts

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Dental sealants have long been seen as effective in preventing tooth decay.

Photo by Todd Baker at Flickr.com

Yet when it comes to getting these thin protective coatings onto the vulnerable chewing surfaces of children’s teeth, many states aren’t doing enough, according to a new report from the Pew Center on the States.

In fact, today’s report, “Falling Short,” gives 20 states and the District of Columbia grades of D and even F for their efforts.

To find out how your state did, go to www.pewstates.org/dental-sealants.

Most troubling, according to Pew, is that poor children, who face higher risk of tooth decay, are less likely to have the sealants. Only 26 percent of poor children have sealants, compared to 34 percent of kids from higher income levels, the report found.

States were awarded grades based upon four indicators:

  • whether sealant programs are available in high-need schools
  • whether hygienists in the state are allowed to place sealants on children who have not first been examined by a dentist
  • whether the state regularly collects data about child dental health and submits it to a national oral health data base
  • whether the state is meeting sealant goals set by the federal government’s Healthy People 2010 objectives

Pew found:

Mary OttoMary Otto, AHCJ’s topic leader on oral health is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover oral health care.

If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to mary@healthjournalism.org.

  • That 35 states and the District of Columbia lacked sealant programs in a majority of high-need schools.
  • That 19 states, as well as D.C., require a child to be seen by a dentist before a hygienist is allowed to place sealants (a measure that Pew termed outdated.)
  • That 40 states and the District could not confirm they had reached the Healthy People 2010 goal of getting sealants to at least half their children.
  • That 19 states and the District had failed to submit data on child tooth decay and other oral health measures within the past five years to the National Oral Health Surveillance System, a federal database used to assess oral health needs and trends across populations.

Only five states – Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wisconsin -earned grades of A, yet even in those places, Pew determined that thousands of children remain at risk for decay and lack sealants.

“Children’s health isn’t the only thing that suffers when states don’t invest in sealant programs,” summarized Shelly Gehshan, director of the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign. “States that miss this opportunity to prevent decay are saddling taxpayers with higher costs down the road through Medicaid and other programs.”

Pew called on states to expand school-based programs, update rules regarding hygienist supervision, improve data collection and focus on reaching Healthy People 2010 goals.

Resources

For those of you writing about dental sealants in your area, we’ve gathered resources about the topic.

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