SALT LAKE CITY -- Cavity prevention measures such as educating the public and sealant programs have helped Utah improve dental health options for children over the past year, according to a report released Tuesday.
Utah jumped from a D-grade in 2010 to a B this year by meeting five of the eight policy benchmarks aimed at improving children's dental health, two more than in 2010, according to the report by the Pew Center on the States.
The study grades states based on access to sealant programs for underserved populations, the share of residents on fluoridated community water supplies, tracking data on children's dental health, Medicaid-enrolled children getting dental care and the number of authorized primary care dental providers.
"Dental care is the most unmet health need among children," said Shelly Gehshan, director of the Pew Children's Dental Campaign. "The fact that no state met all eight of our benchmarks shows that even the A-states can do better. An 'A' does not stand for 'all done."'
The study found that efforts in Utah to implement programs at high-risk schools to help prevent cavities and to allow dental hygienists to place sealants without a dentist's prior exam makes Utah one of 22 states that received higher grades than in 2010.
Dental sealants are plastic coatings applied to children's molars to prevent cavities and have been known to decrease decay by up to 60 percent, according to Steven Steed, director of the Utah Oral Health Program with the Utah Department of health.
Twenty-three states made no improvements over the last year. Indiana, Iowa, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina and Rhode Island dropped in their performance, mostly driven by Medicaid reimbursement rates that have not kept up with a rise in dentists' fees.
Despite economic challenges with funding, Steed said water fluoridation has been a cost-effective way for the state to improve children's dental health, especially among underserved populations.
"We're still facing challenges with getting more fluoridated water to those who need it and getting dentists to see children by the age of one," said Steed. "We'd still like to see more dental care for the older population and more sealant programs for underserved children."