Friday, May 24, 2019

Say cheese! Well-Ahead Louisiana aims for healthy smiles across the state

By MeCHAUNE BUTLER, MPA | Oral Health Promotion Manager, Well-Ahead Louisiana;  GEORGENA DESROSIER, MPH | Oral Health Promotion Coordinator, Well-Ahead Louisiana; and ANGELA VANVECKHOVEN | Health Education Manager, Well-Ahead Louisiana 

Oral disease is almost completely preventable, but it still affects children and adults throughout Louisiana every day. Oral health has a direct impact on many other diseases and conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Additionally, gum disease in pregnant women is associated with premature births and low birth weight.

Along with those risks, 83% of the state’s parishes have a shortage of dental care providers. That is why Well-Ahead Louisiana, an initiative of the Louisiana Department of Health, focuses on promoting oral health through expanded access to preventive dental services, specifically through school dental sealant programs.

Dental sealants

Dental sealants prevent 80% of cavities on the back teeth, where 9 out of 10 cavities occur. These thin plastic coatings are applied to the chewing surfaces of the first and second molars, where food and bacteria are not easily removed, acting as a barrier to protect the teeth from plaque and acids that cause tooth decay. When correctly applied, dental sealants last several years before reapplication is needed.

School dental sealant programs

Tooth decay causes pain, and children suffering from dental pain cannot focus or be productive, particularly during school. School dental sealant programs are an evidence-based best practice for preventing tooth decay among children who are less likely to see dentists in a private practice. Schools are an ideal place to reach children, and they play a pivotal role in affecting children’s health. In Louisiana, a dentist must first perform an oral health screening; a dentist, dental hygienist or other qualified dental professional can then apply sealants.

These programs are either school-based or school-linked. School-based are conducted completely within the school setting using portable dental equipment. School-linked can include transporting the children to a linked federally qualified health center, having a mobile bus or van at the school, or holding the program in a school-based health center.

Louisiana Seals Smiles

Well-Ahead Louisiana is excited to continue its Louisiana Seals Smiles program, which is a replicable program that provides free oral health screenings and dental sealants to eligible students ages 6 to 14.  Recently, the Louisiana Seals Smiles Toolkit was added to Well-Ahead’s website to provide guidance and resources for any provider who wants to implement a school dental sealant program in his or her community. It includes step-by-step instructions for implementation and printable, ready-to-use downloads like parent flyers, a clinic charting form, a dental report card and more.

Children who have good oral health are better able to learn, grow and play. Be a leader in ensuring youth in your community have healthy smiles by using the toolkit to start a school sealant program. Together, we can move Louisiana’s health forward.

For more information

To learn more about oral health, visit Well-Ahead Louisiana or email

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