The Times-Picayune: Report Gives Louisiana a 'D' for Quality of Dental Care for Poor Kids
Louisiana got poor marks for the availability of programs to provide crucial dental care to low-income children, according to a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The review found that less than a quarter of "high-need" schools have programs to put sealant on children's teeth to prevent tooth decay.
Many states received low marks in the report, which advocates more school-based treatment and looser regulations to allow dental hygienists to perform tooth examinations and offer treatment without dentist supervision.
Louisiana is one of 11 states that prohibit hygienists from applying sealants in school programs without a prior dentist exam. The sealant is a plastic coating on the surface of permanent molars to prevent cavities.
Studies have found that such preventative treatment is especially important for low-income children, who are less likely to get regular dental care and therefore treatment for tooth decay, Pew found.
Hygienists can be trained to perform this work properly at school sites without a dentist exam, the report argued. Requiring dentists to be on-site increases costs, resulting in fewer children getting served.
Oral health problems can lead to broader medical troubles, while persistent toothaches can lead to children not paying attention in school, the report concluded.
The Louisiana Dental Association, which represents the state's dentists, agreed that access to care is a problem in Louisiana, saying sealants are just part of the equation.
The association also emphasized that care coordinated by a dentist is essential. "Comprehensive solutions, including comprehensive care provided in a dental home by the proven delivery system of a dental team led by a dentist fully trained to diagnoses, plan treatment and delegate to other team members, should be the goal," said Ward Blackwell, the association's executive director.
Louisiana also fared poorly in a 2010 Pew report that took a broader look at dental care for low-income kids. That report found that about 17 million children nationwide received no dental care each year.
In particular, Louisiana was singled out for many communities not providing fluoridated water and, in general, lack of access to dentists.