Oklahoma is among the many states that aren't doing enough to prevent tooth decay among low-income children, according to a report released Tuesday.
The Pew Center on the States report shows several states lag in providing children with dental sealants, clear plastic coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of molars that prevent decay at one-third the expense of filling a cavity, according to the organization's report.
Sealants are typically first applied to children's molars when they are in the second grade, shortly after their permanent teeth appear, according to the report.
The Pew Center on the States is a division of the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization that applies an analytical approach to improve public policy and inform the public, according to the group's website.
Dr. Bill Maas, a policy adviser for the Pew Children's Dental Campaign, said many low-income children who get a cavity won't get to the dentist until it causes a toothache that gets their parents' attention, causing them to try and find a dentist that will accept Medicaid.
“That means the kid may be suffering for many weeks before anybody knows about it, not being able to pay attention in school, not being able to sleep,” Maas said.
Research shows that providing sealants through school-based programs is a cost-effective way to reach low-income children, who are at greater risk of decay, according to the report.
Oklahoma, along with 14 other states, received a D grade in the report, in part because the state lacks any sort of dental sealant program in its high-need schools, according to the report.
Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia do not have sealant programs in a majority of high-need schools, which are schools with more than 50 percent of students who participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, according to the report.
Pew researchers based the grades on four indicators that the organization said should be a key part of any state's prevention strategy: having sealant programs in high-need schools; allowing hygienists to place sealants in school-based programs without requiring a dentist's exam; collecting data regularly about the dental health of schoolchildren and submitting it to a national oral health database; and meeting a national health objective on sealants.
Dr. Jana Winfree, chief of dental service at the state Health Department, said for the past year, a task force of Oklahoma's oral health leaders has worked to create recommendations for improving children's dental health.
“We do recognize the importance of preventive care and sealants,” Winfree said. “Progress is being made on a sealant initiative for the state.”
The group is looking for ways to finance a school-based dental sealant program. It estimates it will cost at least $250,000 to start up the program, Winfree said.
“Sealants, along with fluoridation, good oral hygiene and a healthy diet — you need all of these things in order to have a healthy smile,” Winfree said.