CONCORD, N.H. -- Several New England states have strong programs to give schoolchildren the tools to take care of their teeth and rank consistently near the top of national ratings, according to data released Monday.
In the report issued by the New Hampshire Dental Society, New Hampshire and Maine were in the top five of states that provide information and access to dental sealants. The society said sealants, in which teeth are coated with a plastic barrier, are one of the most effective ways to prevent tooth decay.
The dental society put out its recap Monday of its "Something to Smile About" program, an effort to educate people about the connection between oral health and overall health. It used data compiled from several sources including the Pew Center on the States
New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island also are in the top five states for providing more than 75 percent of their high-risk schools with sealant programs.
The findings are contained in the nonprofit Pew Center's 2013 report titled "Falling Short: Most States Lag on Dental Sealants."
Other data showed New Hampshire and Vermont were both in the top five, with at least 50 percent of third-graders getting the sealant, and ranked among the top four in percentage of children getting any dental care within the past 12 months. Vermont was best in that category with 88 percent getting care, compared to 85.5 percent in New Hampshire.
The states also have relatively low rates of third-graders with untreated decay: 12 percent in New Hampshire and 16 percent in Vermont, compared to some states that came in at 42 percent, according to the National Survey of Children's Health.
"We have made progress and we're moving in the right direction," said Jim Williamson, executive director of the dental society, which as some 750 members. "We certainly know there are areas where we still need improvement."
One of those is fluoridation, considered one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent decay. Maine at nearly 80 percent and Rhode Island at nearly 85 percent ranked well among states for residents getting fluoridated water, compared with a national figure of 75 percent, according to data compiled by the Pew Charitable Trust. Vermont, though, was at 58.5 percent while New Hampshire had just 42.6 percent of the population who use municipal water supplies getting fluoride in their drinking water.
Part of the reason is that Vermont and New Hampshire, like other rural states, have fewer municipal water supplies and more private wells. The dental society said it's "an impossible task" to treat all those private wells with fluoride but Williamson thinks more progress can be made with municipal water supplies. There's still an outdated view of the science of fluoridation that stalled its use in some places for decades, he said.
Williamson said the society is encouraged by improved dental health among students, hoping that they'll continue the healthy practices as adults.