Taking care of our children’s teeth is so important

Dana Portillo, School Health Coordinator for Monroe County School District and School Based Dental Sealant Program Manager for the Department of Health Monroe, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM yesterday morning to talk about teeth. 

February is a National Children’s Dental Health Month and it’s important to discuss. 

Portillo said, “It is a great time to talk about it. We all know about taking care of our health and eating well and sleeping well and drinking plenty of water, but we don’t get as much conversation that our teeth and our teeth tell a lot about us. It’s not just about having a pretty smile, which everybody wants and it’s great for your self confidence, but it is a window to the rest of your health. It affects your heart, it affects your immune system and so much more. So it’s really important that we take care of our teeth and anything that we can do to help out our children key because we all know that dental health isn’t exactly everybody’s biggest priority, especially as you’re a young child. We tend to get better about that as we get older and have fillings and learn from our previous mistakes.”

What are dental sealants? 

Portillo said, “Dental sealants, I have to envision this, because I’m not the one doing it. So in my mind, it would be a lot like taking fingernail polish, for lack of a better term, and its brushed on the very back teeth that have those grooves and so they’re the ones most likely to get those cavities. Part of the reason that they’re most likely to get those cavities is because they’re in the very back of our mouths, they trap our food, they’re the hardest ones to really brush and brush well. So by putting this dental sealant on, it’s just painted on and allowed to dry, it kind of decreases the amount of the groove. If you can imagine smoothing it a little bit. It keeps some of that food and bacteria out. It also makes it easier to brush and take care of our teeth.”

Are there any side effects? 

Portillo said, “No. It’s one of the simplest things you can really do. Because there is no downtime. There’s no pain. It is just in my mind, the perfect intervention in the fact that it’s quick and easy and painless and prevents up to 80% of cavities in the area. It is applied, typically between the ages of six and 14. It’s after those molars come in that it gets applied. So that’s why we offer it in the schools to second graders and seventh graders. That’s just because we can’t offer it up to everybody, that’s just too much of a logistical challenge. But if your child is not in second or seventh grade, and you’re interested in this, this is still something that your dentist or your dental hygienist can apply. So that is something available to you. I am always the quickest to give the high fives and the attaboys to AHEC, which has just been a wonderful program in our community for our schools and our school health. But also they are the ones that implement this dental sealant program in our schools. So the hygienist and Michael Cunningham go in and they do these things. Michael is also fantastic in the fact that he’s such an out of the box, forward thinker and we can all benefit from that. They have a dental bus that goes to the schools, and is not part of the dental sealant program, but dental sealants can also be provided on there. In fact, when our families sign up for services, whether it’s a cleaning and checkup, or if you have a feeling and you need intervention or whatever, he implements the sealants as part of that overall health provision to these kids. There’s a lot out there that’s available and it doesn’t have to be just second and seventh grade, but that’s what we offer in our schools.”

It’s possible some dental insurances won’t cover the cost of the sealants. 

Portillo said, “That’s a question you can certainly ask your dentist but when it’s done in the schools, you do not get an out of pocket cost. So if insurance gets billed and they take care of whatever but you’re not going to get a bill and that’s a definitely a benefit.”

Who is eligible for the dental sealant program? 

Portillo said, “Every one of our kids is eligible. So there is no reason for everything that we have to offer for families not to take advantage of this or to feel that they can’t take advantage of this because there is not that cost thing that is prohibitive. That is something that always makes me feel kind of like Santa Claus, I don’t care if it’s our program that can offer up free eyeglasses, and you never want to use the word free, but when families don’t have to choose between putting food on their table, and providing the services for their kids, I feel like that’s a pretty big win win.”

How much would this typically cost if a family were to take the cost on themselves for a dental sealant program?

Portillo said, “In my research, and I have to go by research, because I really don’t know what all the local offices charge, but it says $40 to $60 per tooth. So you have to think that that adds up pretty quickly. Now granted, if you have a cavity and you need a filling, it could probably be easily three times that amount. So there’s still a lot of money going out. But anything that we can do to prevent whether it’s dental health, overall health, any prevention is the best way to go.” 

How long will the procedure last? 

Portillo said, “The sealant that’s put in place can typically last between two and seven years just because of usual wear and tear. We chew our food, things wear off and those can get looked at whenever you get a cleaning or a checkup and then they can be repaired or replaced.”

How can someone enroll their child in the dental sealant program? 

Portillo said, “Typically what happens is in August, when school first starts up, and all the parents get what I call the parent homework, which is the folder of your health history forums, and your consent forms and everything that’s in there, we try to go ahead and also provide our dental sealant signup sheet. It may come then, but if not, it does get handed out again by the school nurse who helps to really kind of coordinate with AHEC to make things happen. If you have not gotten that, typically in the fall, you could reach out to the school nurse and kind of say, hey, my child didn’t get one of these, can I get one? We’re wrapping up for the school year right now, so I would not run out and try to do that now. However, if you are interested, whether your child is in second grade, or seventh grade, or any of the others in between, for ages six to 14, primarily, you can still coordinate that with AHEC with their dental bus or they have a new location in Marathon that actually allows them to see even more kids. That’s at 5800 Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail or by calling 305-743-7111. That is the AHEC number, it is the same number as calling for a for a health care appointment but you just have to choose the dental option. They may able to may be able to fit you in and get you all hooked up.” 

A dentist can also identify any other issues.

Portillo said, “They can refer them to AHEC or someone else if necessary to get that treatment because many of these kids will not have a dental care provider. So it’s a good thing to get looked at. But we also provide education on how to take good care of your teeth. You can get your toothbrushe, your toothpaste, your floss and all that kind of stuff because they say you should only really floss the teeth that you want to keep. So that is a goal. So we want to we want to keep all those teeth.”