Fewer Colorado kids have cavities than they did ten years ago. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says dental sealants are part of the reason for improvement. Fluoride varnish treatments before age three and drinking fluoridated water are other factors in lower cavity rates in kids.
The report released today by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows the proportion of kindergarteners who have had at least one cavity decreased 14 percent from the 2006-07 school year to the 2016-17 school year. During that time, the number of third graders with at least one cavity dropped by 10 percent.
According to the report, 55 percent more children in third grade have received dental sealants compared to a decade ago. Dental sealants are a clear coating applied to teeth to prevent cavities. Children with sealants can expect 80 percent fewer cavities in future years.
“We’ve made progress,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer at the department. “But too many Colorado children still suffer needlessly from the preventable pain of cavities.”
Despite the 10-year improvement to children’s oral health, nearly one in three Colorado kindergartners and half of all Colorado third graders have had at least one cavity. Students at low-income schools suffer higher rates of untreated tooth decay than children at other schools. The report shows African-American and Latino children are more likely to have experienced cavities and are less likely to have access to dental care than white students.
Poor oral health leads to poor overall health and can affect the academic performance of students with untreated cavities. Cavities can lead to pain, infection and costly dental treatments such as extractions, root canals or caps. Children with toothaches have a hard time eating, concentrating in class or engaging in school activities. Colorado children miss thousands of school hours every year because of the preventable complications of cavities.
Research shows kids who receive early dental screening and four fluoride varnish applications before age 3 can reduce their risk of cavities by 16 percent. Fluoride varnish applications are quick, inexpensive and can be done by a child’s dentist, hygienist or primary care provider during routine well-child visits. The department’s Cavity Free at Three program trains providers in early childhood dental treatment and recommends parents take their children to the dentist by their first birthday.
The health department also recommends community water fluoridation, a safe and cost-effective way for communities to prevent cavities for all residents, regardless of income, race/ethnicity or access to dental care. The proportion of Coloradans with access to optimally fluoridated water increased from 71 percent in 2010 to nearly 75 percent in 2017. Children who drink fluoridated water from an early age experience 40 percent fewer cavities over their lifespan.
“Expanding preventive oral health programs like Cavity Free at Three, school sealant programs and community water fluoridation will help all Colorado children thrive,” said Katya Mauritson, state dental director.