As children head back to school, they might have the latest wardrobe and school supplies for the new school year. But do they have a healthy mouth, and the tools needed to maintain it? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay among children is four times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever. And here in Cayuga County, dental health is still an unmet need facing children today.

While dental caries (cavities) are largely preventable, they remain the most common chronic disease in children, a problem that has been referred to as America’s silent epidemic. The fact is that dental cavities can have a detrimental effect on the health and quality of life of a child. Untreated tooth decay can cause pain and infection that may lead to difficulty eating, speaking, socializing and sleeping, as well as poor overall health. Dental problems can also adversely affect both school attendance and performance. It is estimated that children in the U.S. miss over 51 million hours of school due to dental-related illnesses.

One great example of good preventive practice for children is dental sealants. Introduced in the 1960s, dental sealants are a thin, plastic coating that is painted on the surface of molars. The coating fills in and seals the pits and grooves of teeth, making them more resistant to bacteria that can cause cavities. Dental sealants are most often recommended when children’s first permanent molars come in, typically between ages 5 and 7, and again when their “12-year molars” arrive.

Research shows that school-based dental sealant programs are key to reducing the rate of childhood cavities. In response to our community’s need, and with support from the state Department of Health through a preventative dentistry grant, East Hill Family Medical will again provide the opportunity for kids in grades kindergarten through six to receive sealants right in the school they attend. For the 2018-2019 school year, East Hill will be providing these services at Cato-Meridian, Port Byron and Southern Cayuga elementary schools, as well as all of the elementary schools within the Auburn Enlarged City School District. East Hill’s school-based dental team consists of a dentist, dental hygienist and dental assistant. They set up a portable clinic within each school, and move from school to school throughout the year.

“Any kind of prevention that we can do to keep kids smiles beautiful, we do” said JoAnne Elser, dental hygienist with East Hill’s School-Based Dental Program. “The procedure to place sealants is simple and quick with little, if any, discomfort. After a thorough cleaning, the sealants are applied to the tooth’s chewing surface, where it bonds with enamel. A special curing light is used to help the sealant harden and that’s it."

This program wouldn’t be successful without the partnership that East Hill’s school-based dental team has with the schools participating in the program. The schools work closely with East Hill’s team to notify parents when the dental team is at the school, sending paperwork home with every student and following up with families. Parents do have the choice to enroll their child in the program; parental consent is needed before any service is provided. So parents, if you have an elementary school student in one of the schools listed above, keep a lookout for information coming home with your child. First stop for East Hill’s school-based dental sealant program this year: William H. Seward Elementary.

In addition to providing sealants, East Hill’s school-based dental team provides education in the classroom and to every child seen. Good oral health enhances our ability to speak, smile, eat and show our emotions through facial expressions. Preventative oral health habits such as regular dental care and good oral hygiene, developed early in life, can lead to better overall oral health throughout a person’s life. For more information on East Hill Family Medical’s School-Based Dental Program, contact me at (315) 253-8477.

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Danielle Collier is the director of marketing and communications at East Hill Family Medical, a federally qualified health center offering dental, reproductive health, internal medicine and pediatric services. Located at 144 Genesee St., Auburn, the center can be contacted at easthillmedical.com or (315) 253-8477.