Monday, February 2, 2004

Ky. catching up on dental health of students

By Matt Leingang
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEWPORT - The Northern Kentucky Health Department is launching a new program to bring dental care to school children.

Carrie Janszen, a dental hygienist supervisor, makes a presentation to second grade students at Crittenden Mt. Zion Elementary School.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
It begins with volunteer dentists visiting local schools to examine children in the second and sixth grades for early signs of tooth decay.

Later, a dental hygienist from the health department will provide free sealants.

Dental sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted on the pits and fissures of the back teeth. The net result is a smoother tooth surface, one that is less likely to trap food and plaque, which cause tooth decay.

The Cincinnati Health Department has run a dental sealant program at city schools for decades, helping to reduce rates of decay and infection. As good as they are, though, sealants are not meant to replace regular trips to a dentist.

Oral health for poor children remains a terrible problem in Cincinnati - kids with untreated decay come to school with throbbing toothaches and bleeding gums - but the situation is worse in Kentucky.

The University of Kentucky recently found that 57 percent of third- and sixth- grade students had fillings or tooth decay, and that 31 percent needed treatment. Both rates are twice the national average.

"Kentucky children badly need this help," said Carrie Janszen, dental hygiene supervisor for the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

Janszen, a dental hygienist, will apply the dental sealants beginning Feb. 26 at A.D. Owens Elementary School in Newport. Consent forms already have gone out to parents.

The goal is to reach at least 750 children this year. Many of these children come from families who do not have dental insurance and cannot afford the out-of-pocket expense for preventive care, Janszen said. And even if they have Medicaid -- the federal-state program for the poor -- most dentists do not accept it.

Another obstacle to launching the sealant program was Kentucky law, which mandated that a dentist be in the office at all times when dental sealants are applied to patients. The law was changed in 2002 at the urging of public health advocates who argued that dental hygienists were qualified to apply the sealants without direct supervision.



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