Bladen County Health Department has announced the availability of a new dental program aimed at early treatment and prevention of one of the most prevalent “diseases” among children-tooth decay.

The program, sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, will provide dental screening and preventative fluoride varnish application for children from nine months of age (or first tooth) to three years of age. Medicaid pays the cost of the service for eligible children.

According to Health Department Director of Nursing Debbie Long, tooth decay is one of the most common preventable diseases seen in children today.

Long says that in Bladen County about 32 percent of kindergarten children screened have untreated tooth decay. In the 1998-1999 school year, 206 of 447 children screened in kindergarten were found to have tooth decay.

Had this detection and prevention program been available, these children could have received early detection and treatment. She adds that many of the cases would have been prevented.

Long says the program will emphasize both detection and prevention.

“The child will first be examined and will have follow-up visits every six months afterward,” says Long. “We’ll use a mirror and a light to look for early signs of diseases in the mouth. If we find signs of abnormalities, we will refer the child to a qualified dental professional for further examination and treatment.

“During each visit, we will provide helpful education on diet and fluoride supplements, as well as prevention techniques.”

Long says that children will receive a fluoride varnish application to their teeth.

“The varnishing process takes only minutes to apply to the child’s teeth,” Long says. “However, it may cause the teeth to have a dull appearance for 24 hours or so. With regular brushing, the resin coat will be removed leaving fluoride protected teeth for the child.”

The application of fluoride to teeth has been proven to be both safe and effective, according to the information provided by the American Dental Association, which has endorsed its use.

Fluoride application has been proven to be effective in reducing the occurrence of cavities by up to 40 percent. It has been used in Europe for 25 years and has been approved as a “device” by the Food and Drug Administration.

The cost of the service for children not eligible for Medicaid is based on a sliding scale self-pay, which means the cost will vary dependent of the financial resources of the children’s parents/caregivers.

Questions concerning the dental program may be directed to Long or Angela Pait, RN, at the Bladen County Health Department, 862-6900.