Twenty-one Percent Of Transylvania County Kindergartners Have Untreated Dental Decay

 

March 8, 2018



When five-year-olds arrive in kindergarten, they come with new backpacks and packages of pencils and crayons, ready to learn. Unfortunately, in Transyl-vania County, 21 percent of children are also arriving to kindergarten with dental decay, impairing their ability to learn and significantly impacting their school performance, right from day one.

A new report from NC Child shows that 36 percent of Transylvania County children are receiving dental sealants that can prevent further decay.

“Dental decay is the most common disease among children in North Carolina and has an immediate and lasting impact on a child’s overall health and school performance,” said Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child. “Tooth decay is linked to heart and lung disease, diabetes and stroke, and has a documented impact on GPA and school attendance.”


Dental decay is not spread evenly across the state; children from poor, rural counties tend to have the highest rates of decay. Dentists are also spread unevenly across the state. In three counties — Camden, Hyde, and Tyrrell — there are no dentists. In Transylvania County there are 2.9 dentists per 10,000 people; the national average is 6.1 dentists per 10,000 people.

School-based sealant programs (SBSPs) offer a powerful solution to address these disparities and the growing problem of dental decay. Sealants cut cavities by 80 percent for up to two years and 50 percent for up to four years. Because dental hygienists provide sealants in SBSPs, children in areas without accessible dentists could receive preventive care.

Very few communities have continuous sealant programs, though the Oral Health Section of the NC Department of Health and Human Services provides rotating sealant projects that provide services at approximately 50-100 schools per year. Despite the success of this program, more widespread efforts are needed to ensure all children have access to preventive oral health care.

Unfortunately, the interpretation of current state law prevents dental hygienists from providing preventive care, including sealants, without a prior dental exam. This restriction makes the wide-scale adoption of SBSPs challenging, since so many of the children in need don’t have access to dental services.


“One of the keys to increasing oral health for all North Carolinians is to bring affordable preventive services to where people are. If policy barriers were removed, hygienists could do a lot more in terms of bringing essential preventive oral health care to children in a setting that they know well, their schools. We are excited to be working with a key group of stakeholders to make this a reality in the near future for North Carolina,” said Zulayka Santiago, executive director of the Oral Health Collaborative.

The report includes the following recommendations to improve children’s oral health and academic outcomes:

•Reduce oral health disparities and target children at high risk for tooth decay by promoting dental sealant placements in school-based settings.

•Staff school-based sealant/prevention programs with dental hygienists operating under the direction of public or private dentists.

•Increase children’s access to sealants by eliminating unnecessary rules that limit the use of appropriately trained and licensed dental hygienists in placing sealants.

 
 

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