“The widespread implementation of oral health programs in schools could increase the reach of traditional dental practices and improve children’s oral health — all while reducing health disparities and the cost of care,” said researcher Richard Niederman from the New York University.
Dental cavities are the most common chronic disease in children, and one in five elementary school children have at least one untreated cavity.
While cavities can be prevented with dental visits and good at-home oral hygiene, some families experience barriers to seeing a dentist, including cost and parents having to take time off of work.
For the study, the team included nearly 7,000 elementary school students. The services were provided at no cost to families.
Twice-yearly visits involved dental examinations followed by cavity prevention and treatment, including fluoride varnish, sealants, and minimally invasive fillings to stabilize cavities without drilling.
Students also received oral hygiene instructions, toothbrushes, and fluoride toothpaste to take home. If more complex care was required, students were referred to local dentists.
Notably, the procedures used do not create aerosols, which limits the risk of transmitting viruses through the air.
In one group of schools, cavities were reduced from a baseline of 39 per cent to 18 per cent, and in a second group, cavities decreased from 28 per cent to 10 per cent. The prevention programme reduced cavities in both baby and permanent teeth.