Most tooth decay can be prevented through a combination of interventions like our school-based sealant program and our fluoride mouth rinse program. If left untreated, tooth decay can lead to difficulty eating, speaking, and learning in school. Tooth decay can affect anyone, but we are seeing oral health disparities continue to exist for many Arizona school children. The issues are more common among certain racial and ethnic groups and children with limited or no access to dental insurance.
Our Office of Oral Health reports that 54 percent of non-Hispanic white children have tooth decay compared to 86 percent of American Indian children and 69 percent of Hispanic children. Fifty-five percent of children under private dental insurance plans have tooth decay while 79 percent of children with no dental insurance are affected.
Since 1987 the school-based dental sealant program has provided dental sealants to Arizona’s children . Sealants are thin coatings applied to the tiny grooves in the teeth that keep out food and bacteria. Our oral health team works with local county health departments to promote and facilitate the program providing much needed dental care to underserved children throughout the state. Children in second and sixth grade with a need for sealants, that do not have private dental insurance and who attend schools with a high level of participation through the Arizona Department of Education’s Free and Reduced School Meal Program are eligible to receive the treatment with parental consent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that dental sealants can prevent up to 80 percent of cavities for two years and 50 percent of cavities for up to four years. The ADHS Healthy Smiles Survey pointed out that three out of four children are in need of dental sealants. The survey also reported that more than 64 percent of children had tooth decay experience and 28 percent had untreated tooth decay.
To close the gap our oral health team also promotes the use of fluoride. This naturally occurring element exists in water and soil at varying levels. Fluoride prevents tooth decay by making teeth more resistant to acids produced by cavity causing bacteria. This is why community water fluoridation is common in Arizona’s larger cities. Adjusting the fluoride levels in drinking water has proven to be cost-effective and beneficial to the prevention of tooth decay.
Our fluoride mouth rinse program allows school-age children in areas with sub-optimal levels access to fluoride that they do not receive through their drinking water. During the 2015-2016 school year, 77 Arizona schools with more than 14,000 students participated in the program. This program has shown to reduce tooth decay by 31 percent. Our Oral Health team doesn’t just focus on children. Check out our website to view all of the programs they provide.