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DHS news release

Feb. 14, 2007

General contact: Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282
Program contact: Gordon Empey, 971-673-0336

Efforts to keep kids from getting cavities get a boost

Efforts to protect Oregon's children from getting cavities are getting a boost this month as the state expands its capacity to deliver preventive sealants.

The help comes in the form of two portable dental sealant units that will supplement the school-based sealant program administered by the Oregon Department of Human Services Public Health Division.

Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings that are applied to children's molar teeth when they first appear as a protection against cavities. Nearly all tooth decay can be prevented when sealants are combined with fluoridation and other fluoride products such as toothpaste, according to Gordon Empey, state dental director in DHS.

"Sealants are an investment in a child's health," said Empey. "They protect against first cavities and against fillings, crowns, root canals and extractions that can occur later in life."

The sealant units will be used throughout the state, and dentists and dental hygienists around Oregon already have volunteered to help. Under a limited access permit, hygienists can apply sealants at specific locations such as public and non-profit community health clinics, schools and day cares where there is limited access to preventive dental services.

"We're always looking for hygienists to help out in various communities and we'd love to add some dentists to our volunteer roster, too," said Empey.

The portable units and supplies are paid for out of federal Title V Maternal and Child Health Block Grant Prevention funds. Schools in Hood River and Wheeler counties already have signed up to receive sealants, and an increasing number of others have requested information.

In addition, Governor Ted Kulongoski has proposed expanding the sealant program as part of the Healthy Kids Plan. His budget calls for sealing the teeth of 50 percent of all 8-year-olds by 2010, compared to 30 percent of uninsured children who have dental sealants today.

"Sealants are well complemented by school fluoride programs," said Empey. "Both are effective tools, but children also need regular dental visits, adequate fluoride, daily home care of their teeth and a healthy diet with limited sugar."

Schools are an important access point for children to receive sealants because school-based services allow almost all children access to preventive dental measures regardless of income or insurance status. Schools with a student population of which at least 50 percent are eligible for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program can qualify for sealant programs, which can be provided for free, according to Empey.

"Oral health is important to a child's overall well-being, both now and in the future," said Empey. "Untreated tooth decay causes pain and interferes with school, play and proper nutrition. It also can cause developmental problems and lead to systemic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes," he said.

The oral health program is one of many public health programs within DHS that focus on prevention and helping people manage their health so they can be as productive and healthy as possible.

More information on oral health can be found on the DHS Oral Health Web site.