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Dental health is important for everyone, but particularly children. Kids need to have healthy primary teeth in order for their adult teeth to grow in properly and their jaws to develop correctly. While it is mostly the job of parents to make sure that their kids are learning proper dental care techniques and are free of cavities, it is also the responsibility of the government to do all it can to make sure that young citizens have healthy teeth.
This is why many communities add fluoride to the local water supply, since this natural element has been shown to help strengthen teeth and protect them against decay. However, a recent report showed that not all states are doing everything they can to protect the dental health of their children. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Center for the States, most states fall short when it comes to providing dental sealants to their school-age children.
Simple solution goes unnoticed
Researchers from the Pew Center set out to determine if states were providing dental sealants in schools. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dental sealants are thin pieces of plastic that are applied to the grooves on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to help protect them against decay. They are most effective when placed soon after molars have emerged, so they should be applied when children are around the age of 6 and again when they are 12.
Applying these sealants is a quick and painless process, and studies have shown that this simple act greatly reduces tooth decay in children. Also, a sealant can last for five to 10 years, so it's not as though it must be reapplied annually.
Researchers gave states a rating from A through F when it came to their dental sealant program. Unfortunately, the majority of states received a C or a D grade, with only five states getting As. The states' grades were based on a number of different factors. For example, researchers questioned whether states offered sealant programs in high-need schools, such as schools in rural areas where children may not have access to a dentist. Researchers also looked at whether states allowed hygienists to administer sealants without a dentist present and whether officials collected data on children's dental health and submitted it to a national database.
The scientists discovered that many states are falling short when it comes to sealants. For example, 35 states were found not to have sealant programs in all of their high-need schools.
Outdated practices and missing data
Along with that, 19 states were found to still require a dentist present when a sealant is applied, even though this is an unnecessary measure, since applying a sealant is a fairly simple process. Getting a dentist may be complicated, since these professionals are often overbooked and very busy. If a state requires a dentist to be present when sealants are applied and one is not available, then children may miss out on this cavity-prevention method.
Furthermore, 19 states were found not to have submitted information on children's dental health to a national database in the past five years, which makes tracking progress or decline extremely difficult.
According to the researchers, school-based sealant programs have been shown to help reduce tooth decay in children by an average of 60 percent. This study suggests that state governments need to prioritize these simple programs in order to make sure that local children have healthy teeth.
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