Third-graders at public schools serving mostly higher-income families have better access to cavity-preventing dental sealants, according to a new Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) survey. These third-graders also have fewer cavities.
Dental sealants are a clear plastic resin that, when applied properly to the chewing surfaces of molar teeth, protect against tooth decay and cavities. Dental sealants are cost effective. One dental sealant typically costs half the price of a single filling and lasts five to 10 years.
MDH compared the dental health of third-graders at schools where 25 percent or fewer of the students were eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program with students at schools where more than 75 percent of the students were eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program. The percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch is often used as a proxy measure for the percentage of students living in lower-income households.
The analysis found the following disparities:
Third-graders in the schools serving mostly higher-income families were 1.5 times more likely to be protected by dental sealants (68.0 percent) compared with students in schools serving mostly lower-income families (44.9 percent).
Third-graders enrolled in schools serving mostly lower-income families were 1.6 times more likely to have tooth decay (62.6 percent) versus third-graders enrolled in schools with higher-income families (39.8 percent).
Students enrolled in the schools serving mostly lower-income families were also 3.3 times more likely to have untreated tooth decay (29.7 percent) compared to students enrolled in schools serving mostly higher-income families (8.9 percent).
“This survey shows we need to do more to eliminate dental-health inequities among our children,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “With dental diseases being nearly 100 percent preventable, we are allowing our children to miss treatment opportunities, such as sealants, that could positively impact their well-being for the rest of their lives.”
There are 134 Minnesota schools with third-graders that are more than 75 percent eligible for the free or reduced-price meal program and 240 schools with third-graders that are 25 percent or less eligible for the free or reduced-price meal program.
The survey also found that third-graders enrolled in rural schools were 1.3 times more likely to have tooth decay (56.2 percent) compared to third-graders enrolled in urban schools (44.3 percent).
The results highlight the need for statewide, coordinated school-based or linked dental and dental sealant programs that target schools with lower-income families and rural communities. The Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health indicates that properly placed sealants can reduce decay in school children by more than 70 percent.
Funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration and Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation, the Minnesota Department of Health’s Oral Health Program carried out the Third Grade Basic Screening Survey (BSS) during the 2014-2015 school year among a representative sample of third-grade students in Minnesota public schools. For more information, see Oral Health Status: Tooth decay and dental sealants (children).
— Information provided by the MDH