Florida is missing a cheap and easy bet for improving the dental health of its children, according to a new survey.
The Pew Children's Dental Campaign gives the state a "D," mostly because it does little to make sure kids have access to decay-fighting tooth sealant programs in public schools.
The sealant is a plastic resin that's painted on the teeth and then protects them, sometimes for years, against acid and plaque. It’s pretty cheap, health experts say, but the sealant programs are available in only about 25 percent of Florida public schools.
Fourteen other states got Ds in the Pew survey. There were only five As.
"If we just did the basic things, it would dramatically reduce oral health disease and improve quality of life, and sealants are one of the easiest things we can do — that and tooth brushing," Roderick K. King, executive director for the Florida Public Health Institute, told the Sun Sentinel.
Sealants — usually applied around second grade, shortly after kids' permanent molars appear — act as a barrier to decay-causing bacteria and cost about one-third the price of a filling. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention task force found in 2002 that after this sealant treatment, molars — the teeth most likely to grow cavities — typically see a 60 percent decrease in tooth decay. The panel strongly recommended school-based dental sealant programs to help reach low-income children, those most prone to cavities and least likely to get preventive care.
An obvious result of the absence of dental sealants, according to an organization called Oral Health Florida, is a massive increase in the number of low-income children seeking emergency hospital care for dental problems. The number in 2010: More than 15,000.
The U. S. Centers for Disease Control says a sealant treatment costs about a third as much as a tooth filling and can reduce tooth decay by 60 percent.