Last week concluded a two-week long oral health initiative across Grand County school districts.
For the first year ever, elementary-aged children in both East and West Grand school districts got the opportunity to receive a dental screening and fluoride application without ever having to leave school. The services were offered completely free of charge to all children with parental consent.
West Grand Elementary held the first screening day on Oct. 22, providing oral health screenings to nearly all its students. Out of the 208 children enrolled, 187 were screened. The screening rate was achieved largely due to a Colorado Department of Education statute, which mandates annual health screenings for all children grades K-5. Of the children screened, 17 percent were found to have untreated cavities.
This falls roughly in line with the national average, but dentists on-site commented on the over-abundance of treated cavities seen among the kids, estimating that nearly three out of every four children had undergone previous dental work.
Such observations serve as evidence that, although children in the district are getting treatment for oral health problems once they occur, there is not enough being done to prevent those problems. Water in the Kremmling area is not fortified with fluoride, and naturally found amounts in the water are only .1 ppm, far below the levels recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (0.7-1.2 ppm).
East Grand began its activities the following week, getting parental consent to screen 309 of its 603 students. It was found to have a cavity rate similar to West Grand, with 16 percent of children having untreated tooth decay. However, this figure did not represent the true cavity rate for the district, given only half of students underwent screening. Still, of the students dentists saw, it was clear that prevention was at work. Children in East Grand had endured far less dental work, evidence of good oral health habits such as brushing twice daily, consuming less sugary drinks, and regular fluoridation.
Public health nurses who participated in the initiative stressed the importance of fluoride for good oral health. “People should know that fluoride is not some scary chemical. Fluoride is a mineral that is naturally found in many water sources. With it, kids’ teeth are far less likely to get cavities. This is easy prevention,” stated Gail VanBockern, public health nurse for Grand County. The only areas in Grand County with fluoride in the water are Granby and the SilverCreek Water Sanitation District. Granby supplements the water supply with the mineral, but in SilverCreek, the water is fluoridated completely by natural sources. The Center for Disease Control recognizes water fluoridation as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. People who want to learn more about fluoride can visit: http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/index.htm.
Dentists from Granby and Winter Park Dental, and nurses from Grand County Public Health, took entire days away from practices to perform the screenings and fluoride application. Parent and high school volunteers, teachers, and school nurses worked hard to organize the kids, all with the support of school principals and administrators. Grand County Rural Health Network served as an important referral during the screenings, offering the A.C.H.E.S. program for children in need of financial assistance for further dental follow-up. Grand Beginnings, a local nonprofit, focused on early childhood health and school-readiness, helped to coordinate the partnership and, through a grant funded by The Colorado Trust, sponsored oral health supplies, making sure that every interested child received fluoride and a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss to take home with them.
For prevention to be effective, the program needs to be a committed effort, and community leaders are on board, already setting goals for next year. One of the goals is universal screenings — looking inti the mouths of every child aged K-5 in every school. Plans are already under way with private and charter schools in the county, but there are still many youngsters left to be screened. Extrapolating from the rate of untreated tooth decay observed among those screened to those unscreened, there are an estimated 51 youngsters who need urgent dental care who are being missed.
For those interested in more information about the correlation between oral health and school learning, see: http://www.mchoralhealth.org/PDFs/learningfactsheet.pdf.