Dr. Biscupid: Most U.S. States Fall Short With Dental Sealant Programs
A new report released today by the Pew Center on the States found that 40% of all U.S. states earned either a D or F grade when it comes to providing children with dental sealants, missing a key opportunity to help prevent caries and reduce Medicaid and other health-related costs.
The Pew Children's Dental Campaign released reports in both 2010 and 2011 grading all 50 states and the District of Columbia on children's dental health. Those reports evaluated eight policies covering dental prevention, financing, and workforce issues. This year, Pew chose to focus on sealants.
Research has shown that providing sealants through school-based programs is a cost-effective way to reach low-income children, who are at greater risk of decay, Pew noted in a press release. Although it has been 45 years since the first research paper reported the successful use of sealants, states have been slow to use this prevention strategy. The most recent national survey (2009-2010) revealed that only half of teens ages 13 to 15 had received sealants on a permanent tooth.
This latest report from Pew, "Falling Short: Most States Lag on Dental Sealants," grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their efforts to prevent decay by improving access to sealants for low-income children. The data came from surveys of both state dental directors and state dental boards, as well as from the National Oral Health Surveillance System (NOHSS), a database that enables policymakers to identify trends and assess progress.
Here are some of the report's key findings:
- Roughly two-thirds of all states do not have sealant programs in a majority of high-need schools. Five states have no programs in these schools.
- Nineteen states and the District of Columbia still have a regulation that requires a dentist to examine a child before a hygienist can place a sealant, making sealant programs less cost-effective and ignoring the evidence showing this prerequisite is unnecessary.
- Forty states and the District of Columbia could not confirm that they had reached at least 50% of their children with sealants -- the minimum threshold established by Health People 2010.
- Nineteen states and the District of Columbia did not submit data from within the past five years on school-age children to the National Oral Health Surveillance System.
- Only five states earned an A, and just two of these states (Maine and New Hampshire) received the maximum points possible.