Multnomah County students who crunch fluoride tablets or swish fluoride rinses to ward off cavities won’t get the treatments at school next year.
The county is phasing out its school-based fluoride supplement program after more than 40 years, opting instead to invest more money in a “more effective and efficient” treatment option: dental sealants.
“It’s not that we think tablets are a bad thing. It’s just that sealants are better,” said Len Barozzini, the county’s dental director. “We still encourage primary care physicians and dentists to continue to prescribe fluoride tablets in Portland, since we don’t have fluoride in our water.”
The county released documents Friday that outline plans to stop distributing the supplements to school kids. The voluntary tablet and rinse program, which is available to all public and private elementary schools in Multnomah County, will continue through the end of this school year. Parents who want their children to receive fluoride supplements must sign a waiver. In return, their child’s teacher doles out daily doses of the tooth enamel-protecting chemical.
Starting next year, the $60,000 the county pays to run the tablet program will be moved into an existing county program that provides long-lasting protective dental sealants to students in second, third, seventh and eighth grade. The sealants, plastic coatings placed over the molars, are more effective than fluoride supplements and require less effort. Unlike the supplements, which must be taken daily for maximum effectiveness, one sealant application can protect teeth for up to 10 years.
Why is the county doing away with the old way? Fluoride supplements, from prescription drops to fluoridated toothpaste and drinks, are more readily available than they were when the school program started more than 40 years ago, they argue. Plus, the school-based program poses challenges for teachers who must find time to dole out the tablets and rinses during the school day. Even if they manage to do so, they have no way of ensuring students continue the treatment regimen on weekends and in the summer.
On the other hand, the sealant program reaches far fewer kids. Last year, according to county figures, some 28,000 children in 108 schools participated in the daily supplement program. Only 12,000 kids received the sealants in school or at county health clinics. Barozzini said that number could rise above 14,500 with the extra cash diverted from the supplement program.