Iowa's school-based dental sealant program works

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children and teens; however, there is good news. Dental cavities are nearly 100 percent preventable and research shows that school-based dental sealant programs are key to reducing the rate of childhood cavities.

Dental sealants, introduced in the 1960s, are a thin, plastic coating that is painted on to the surface of molars. The coating forms a seal that reduces the risk of tooth decay. School-age children without dental sealants are likely to have three times as many cavities compared to children with dental sealants, according to the CDC.

Despite the data supporting sealants, only 11 states had school-based sealant programs, according to a 2015 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Thankfully, Iowa is one of those states. Iowa’s school-based sealant program is a project of the I-Smile™ @ School program within the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH).

In 2013, a public/private partnership was formed to create the I-Smile™ @ School program for the state of Iowa through funding from Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Iowa’s rating on children’s dental health by Pew went from a C in 2013 to a B in 2015 due to the increased proportion of high-need schools served by the I-Smile™ @ School program. With the additional funding, IDPH has been able to expand access to school-based dental sealants from 27 counties in 2013 to 97 Iowa counties in 2016. Today, more than 60 percent of Iowa’s high-need schools have the I-Smile™ @ School program. Additionally, I-Smile™ @ School coordinators teach oral health education and offer referrals if dental needs are identified.

Iowa is leading the way in helping kids maintain healthy smiles and is a model for other states. Recently the Children’s Dental Health Project (CDHP) Sealant Work Group (SWG) recognized the good work being done in Iowa schools to prevent cavities. This multi-year analysis demonstrated that school-based sealant programs keep teeth healthy and are a good investment for a community. According to a study published in Health Affairs, a school-based sealant program serving 1,000 children prevents the need for 485 dental fillings. With more than 39,000 Iowa children receiving dental sealants through school-based programs last year, that’s an estimated 18,000 cavities prevented.

Research shows school-based dental sealant programs save money within two years of operation, help improve the overall health of children and were identified by the National Governors Association as one of three “health investments that pay off.” Working together, public/private partnerships like this reduce financial strain and stress on Iowa families, teach children about good health habits at an early age and make Iowa an overall healthier state.

• Dr. Bob Russell, is Sealant Work Group Member, Public Health Dental Director, Iowa Department of Public Health. Jeff Russell is president and CEO of Delta Dental of Iowa

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