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Health Department Releases Report on Oral Health Program

June 1, 2010

Tacoma-Pierce County, WA ? Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has released an initial report on their work to reduce cavities in Pierce County children. The report shows that attempting to prevent tooth decay by applying fluoride varnish and sealants in public school settings was not as effective as anticipated. The program was challenged by difficulties in securing parental consent, migration of families, and other administrative problems.

The Health Department will continue to explore strategies to prevent cavities in Pierce County children.

Tooth decay remains one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood. A survey of Pierce County children in 2005 showed that children across the county suffered from unacceptable levels of tooth decay. Among 2nd and 3rd graders, 56% of all children and 65% of low income children had experienced tooth decay. The Healthy People 2010 goal is 42%.

From 2006 to 2009, the School-Based Oral Health Program within the Health Department provided dental screenings, referrals to low-cost providers, and preventive services (sealants and fluoride varnish treatments) to children in the Bethel and Clover Park school districts. Dental sealants have been shown to be effective both in preventing tooth decay and in stopping the progress of tooth decay.

For those students who received sealants and for whom follow-up was available, tooth decay decreased. However, only about 18% of the students who qualified actually received them. Those who had sealants applied did not retain them as long as expected. And, more than a quarter of the students assessed in the first year were not present for re-assessment two years later, suggesting that student migration in and out of targeted schools may have interfered with the program's effectiveness.

The Health Department will continue to explore ways to prevent cavities in children. This will require expansion of sealant services to more children, finding ways to obtain parental approval for participation, and determining the best methods to apply sealants so they will remain on molars. Effectiveness would also rely on developing a collaborative oral health plan, partnering with communities and school districts to keep the program functioning well.

To read the full report, go to the department's webpage on Oral Health Evaluation (

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