Dental professionals welcomed Nova Scotia’s expanded coverage of certain procedures for children announced Wednesday.
Changes to the Children’s Oral Health Program will see more kids getting fluoride and sealant treatments.
Children aged 14 and younger now will be eligible for molar sealants and an annual fluoride treatment. Children at high risk for developing cavities will be eligible for a second annual fluoride treatment.
Previously only children with cavities were eligible for an annual fluoride treatment and only those with deep molar grooves were eligible for sealants.
Wendy Stewart, a dental hygienist at the Fall River Dental Clinic and Nova Scotia’s representative with the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, said the previous policy of only covering children who already had dental problems didn’t make sense, particularly regarding fluoride.
“That was always as a dental health professional an interesting clause because, as a hygienist, to me fluoride is a preventive treatment and the whole purpose of fluoride is to strengthen the tooth so they don’t get cavities,” said Stewart, who has been a dental hygienist for 18 years, in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
“If they have cavities, you’re a step behind.”
Stewart said the effectiveness of fluoride was illustrated for her 15 years ago when she moved her practice to Fall River, where people mainly use well water, from urban HRM where city water is fluoridated.
In the city, she would see cavities in about 20 to 30 per cent of her young patients. But in Fall River, “I’d say 60 to 70 per cent of the kids I see will have a cavity at some point in their life. To me that kind of shows how important fluoride is.”
Stewart also welcomed the coverage of molar sealant procedures in which a thin plastic coating is applied to the back teeth. “What that does is it prevents bacteria from getting down into the little grooves of the teeth. So if you can keep the bacteria out when the tooth is exposed to sugars and food, there’s a decreased likelihood that there’ll be cavities.”
Speaking of sugar, Stewart said the proliferation of soda and energy drinks hasn’t been good for children’s dental health in this generation of “helicopter” parenting.
“Our families are busy, they’re on the go, they’re off to soccer practice and then off to violin and from violin to dance. And instead of having a sit-down dinner at home with a glass of water, … they have an apple juice or a pop and at the sports field they’re grabbing Gatorade and Powerade from vending machines. There’s more sugar in the diet so there’s definitely been an increase in cavities since I started working.”
The expansion of the Children’s Oral Health Program will cost the province about $910,000 each year, on top of the $10.2 million in other program costs, the Health Department’s news release said Wednesday.
The expanded services are part of an agreement between the province and the Nova Scotia Dental Association, which also boosts the fees dentists earn on Nova Scotia’s MSI dental programs, including the Children’s Oral Health Program, by five per cent. That increase, which will cost the province about $460,000 annually, is retroactive to April 1, 2018.
“An increase in preventive services for children means more children will be eligible to receive more of the preventive dental care they need,” said dental association president Dr. Nada Haider in the release.
The Children’s Oral Health Program is a universal program that covers basic dental care. Families with private insurance must use that coverage first before they can get access to the government program.
Last year, more than 56,000 children used the oral health program.