By CORTNEY ERNDT
Capital News Service
LANSING – Only 25 percent of Michigan’s high schools provide dental sealant programs to prevent tooth decay, according to a new report.
A Pew Charitable Trust study said school-based sealant programs reduce tooth decay by 60 percent at one-third the cost of a filling.
Tooth decay affects nearly 60 percent of children, Pew reported.
Dental sealants are clear plastic coatings applied to permanent molars. Sealants typically last five to 10 years.
Holland Public School’s health aide, Tiffany Jara, said her district provides sealants for grades K-7, but not for high school students.
“I just think they need to learn to brush their teeth,” Jara said.
Jara said parents receive a health history form that asks about medical history, but not specifically dental history.
Ottawa, Ingham, Marquette, Cheboygan and St. Joseph are among 19 Michigan counties that have schools served by SEAL Michigan, a dental sealant program designed specifically for schools.
Pew’s 50-state report focuses on prevention to improve access to sealants for high school students and low-income children.
Pew Children’s dental campaign director, Shelly Gehshan, said, “If you’re in a rural area, if you’re low-income, if you’re uninsured, you are going to have a lot of difficulty accessing dental care.”
Pew reported more than 16 million children nationwide go without seeing a dentist at least once a year.
School-based sealant programs are paid by state-funded grants. Michigan has no law restricting hygienists from applying sealants in schools.
On a scale of A to F, Michigan was graded C based on students’ access to sealants, hygienists’ ability to place sealant programs in schools without restriction, the regular collection of oral health data and the national health objective on sealants.
Mary Beth Campbell, facility manager for Grand Rapids’ Cherry Street Health Services (CSHS) high school-based health center, said although dental care is provided through Grand Rapids Public Schools, students receive treatment only if they want it.
Students won’t be put into a program unless they choose dental treatment. “It’s very voluntary. Parents have to fill out a consent form,” Campbell said.
Campbell said CSHS records the before-and-after progress of cleanings and sealants.
CSHS also travels to more than 50 inner city schools, including Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming, to provide state-funded dental services to low-income children and families.
The federal Affordable Care Act will give all children dental coverage by 2014, but many children already have problems accessing treatment.
Gehshan said, “We’re not prepared to take care of what is going to be a huge influx of children who need and deserve care.”
An additional 5.3 million children nationally will secure dental coverage, Pew reported.
Gehshan said the best thing the state could do is provide fluoridated water and sealants because both are proven to prevent tooth decay.
Pew Children’s Dental Campaign advisor Bill Maas said, “With fluoridated water, you have many more opportunities throughout the day to introduce fluoride into your mouth and strengthen your teeth.”
Gehshan said, “One dollar spent on fluoridation saves $38 in treatment costs. Sealants are a proven, effective public health measure, and right now the kids who need them most are the least likely to get them.”
By CORTNEY ERNDT