Concord, NH – New Hampshire is one of only five stats to receive a grade of “A” in a new report by the Pew Research Foundation on the impact of school dental sealant programs on children’s oral health. Sealants are a clear protective coating applied to teeth to prevent cavities in children. Dental care remains the greatest unmet health need among U.S. children, especially for low-income children, who are almost twice as likely to develop cavities as children from families with higher incomes.
New Hampshire school sealant programs reach more than 75% of high-risk schools, surpassing the national Healthy People 2010 oral health goals for children. The Division of Public Health Services at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has conducted three statewide surveys to assess the oral health of third grade students. A fourth survey is planned for September 2013. Between the second and third surveys in 2004 and 2009, respectively, data show that among third graders, untreated decay decreased from 24.1% to 12.0%, history of decay decreased from 51.0% to 43.6%, and the presence of dental sealants increased from 42.5% to 60.4%. The improvement in children’s oral health is attributed to changes in the Medicaid dental program, the fluoridation of the Manchester public water supply, preventive services for Head Start children at risk for dental diseases, and a statewide focus on the application of dental sealants on students’ teeth through school-based and school-linked programs.
“Tooth decay can have far-reaching effects on children,” said Dr. José Montero, Director of Public Health at DHHS. “Untreated decay can cause pain and infection that may lead to difficulty eating, speaking, socializing, and sleeping and to poor overall health. Dental problems also negatively affect school attendance and performance. Oral health is an important part of overall health care.”
Pew’s grades for states with school-based dental sealant programs are based on four indicators that should be a key part of any state’s prevention strategy:
- Having sealant programs in high-need schools,
- Allowing hygienists to place sealants in school-based programs without requiring a dentist’s exam,
- Collecting data regularly about the dental health of school-children and submitting it to a national oral health database, and
- Meeting a national health objective on sealants.
Dental disease also has serious financial consequences due to the cost of treating children’s tooth decay. Many children end up in hospital emergency departments for tooth-related pain and infection. In New Hampshire, from 2001 to 2007, emergency department charges associated with dental conditions for people of all ages totaled $26.9 million.
School-based sealant programs save money by preventing the need for fillings and other expensive procedures among children at higher risk for cavities. Evidence supports the cost-effectiveness of school-based sealant programs. The average cost of sealing one molar is less than one-third of the expense of filling a cavity. By expanding the number of children reached by sealant programs, states can spare kids the consequences of tooth decay while making a smarter investment of tax dollars.
For more information about the New Hampshire DPHS Oral Health Program visit http://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/bchs/rhpc/oral/index.htm. To read the entire Pew report, go to http://www.pewstates.org/uploadedFiles/PCS_Assets/2013/Pew_dental_sealants_report.pdf