A newly released report on children’s dental care says West Virginia is one of many states not doing enough. The report, Falling Short: Most States Lag on Dental Sealants by the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign gives the state a grade of “C” for its efforts to deliver sealants to children in schools.
This year’s report focuses on how well states do at providing plastic coatings called sealants to the molars of at risk children in school. It also looks at whether states allow dental hygienists to apply sealants without an exam by a dentist, whether states are keeping recent oral health data and whether they’ve reached the goal of applying sealants to at least 50 percent of their children.
“And the report found that in fact there’s a lot of variation among the states and that most states aren’t doing nearly enough to make sure these services are available to children,” Dr. Bill Maas, adviser to the Pew Children’s Dental Program, said.
When Pew first released a report in 2009 West Virginia received an “F.” That first report focused on a broader range of issues related to children’s oral health. And State Dental Director Dr. Jason Roush said it led to many changes.
“We now have a full time state dental director, full time epidemiologist, full time dental sealant coordinator, fluoride specialist,” Roush said. “A lot of infrastructure has been added to the program. There have been a lot of accomplishments here in West Virginia last year.”
Roush said West Virginia received a three year $1.5 million Health Resource and Services Administration grant. The money will be used to give incentives to dental student graduates to practice in areas where there’s a shortage and help them with technical assistance.
West Virginia is one of 40 states and the District of Columbia that did not reach the disease prevention goal set by federal health officials of applying sealants on at least 50 percent of its children, but the state is working toward that goal.
“We secured funding from DentaQuest Foundation last year to expand our dental sealant program,” Roush said. “We hired a dental sealant coordinator, somebody that could oversee the project It’s our goal to certainly meet this 2010 objective.”
West Virginia has made progress in other areas: It’s among the 31 states that submitted data to the Centers for Disease Control National Oral Health Surveillance System.
A law passed last year by the legislature allows dental hygienists with a public health certification to apply sealants. The report says the state is one of 16 that have loosened restrictions on hygienists.
Primary care physicians can now apply a fluoride varnish on infants’ teeth and refer them to a dentist, but providing dental care to West Virginia’s needy children is a challenge.
“The national average of students qualifying for reduced lunch is 24 percent, and here in West Virginia, sad to say, it’s 67 percent,” Roush said. “Also 90 percent of all West Virginia schools meet that definition of being high risk, about 628 of West Virginia 698 total schools”
Roush is disappointed that the state didn’t make a better grade in the report given all the progress that’s been made over the past few years. His office will release the newest data on the state’s oral health next month during a conference in Charleston.