KHI News Service

Kansas earns low grade for preventing tooth decay among children

But a leading oral health advocate says the state is doing better than report suggests

By Jim McLean | January 09, 2013

Kansas earned 6 out of a possible 11 points for availing sealants to low-income children in a report from the Pew Center on the States.

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A new report that gives Kansas a barely passing grade for preventing tooth decay among children does not reflect recent improvements, according to the head of the state’s leading oral health advocacy group.

The report by the Pew Center for the States gives Kansas a grade of 'C' for its efforts to prevent cavities in children through the use of dental sealants—clear plastic coatings that serve as barriers to bacteria. But Tanya Dorf Brunner, executive director of Oral Health Kansas, said the state actually is doing better than that.

“We’ve made tremendous progress in the last couple of years,” Dorf Brunner said.

Tanya Dorf Brunner, executive director of Oral Health Kansas.

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Kansas, like many states, was graded down because less than 50 percent of its high-need schools had dental sealant programs. But Dorf Brunner said that was due in large part to the fact that the state’s school sealant program has only been up and running for two years.

“I believe that allowing the state’s program to keep playing out will address this issue,” she said.

To get a top grade, Kansas would need to have dental sealant programs in 75 percent of schools that serve predominantly low-income students. Those schools are a priority because studies show that children from low-income families are more likely to develop cavities and less likely to have dental sealants.

A timing issue also factored into Kansas’ grade, Dorf Brunner said. The report deducted points because the state had not submitted “recent” data to the National Oral Health Surveillance System. The data was submitted after the deadline for the report, Dorf Brunner said.

“There is current data out there,” she said.

While the state is making progress, it likely never will earn a perfect score on the Pew measures, Dorf Brunner said. For one thing, she said it is unlikely that state lawmakers will remove all restrictions on the ability of dental hygienists to work in community settings without supervision by a dentist. Currently, hygienists who have extended care licenses can work unsupervised in school sealant programs. But only a fraction of Kansas hygienists have undergone the necessary training.

Also, Kansas like many other states will probably continue to struggle to meet the goal of protecting 50 percent of all children with sealants. So far, only 10 states have reached that milestone.

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