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Sealants can protect children's teeth

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DENTAL HYGIENE.jpg
Devan Toberman, a dental hygienist, cleans teeth and applies protective sealants and fluoride varnish on students at Bluff View Intermediate School in Prairie du Chien. She has been carrying her portable equipment — air compressor, collapsible chair, lamp, bottled water, brushes and other dental supplies — into 11 schools in Crawford and Grant counties. Next year, she hopes to add more schools that have high rates of low-income children.

Devan Toberman sat near two third-grade girls this month at Bluff View Intermediate School in Prairie du Chien.

"I've got chocolate, vanilla or strawberry," she said. "We've got a Neapolitan thing going on today."

Toberman, a dental hygienist, wasn't selling ice cream. She was protecting teeth against ice cream and other sweets, with flavors of special toothpaste. Through the state's Seal-A-Smile program, she was also putting sealants and fluoride varnish on students' teeth.

Sealants, thin coatings that can prevent food and germs from getting into gaps in molars, are one of the state's main weapons against tooth decay, especially for children who don't regularly see a dentist.

Fluoride varnish, brushed onto each tooth, adds "vitamins for the teeth," said Matt Crespin, oral health project manager for the Children's Health Alliance of Wisconsin, which runs the Seal-A-Smile program.

The decade-old program is expanding, especially in rural areas, using state and federal money and a contribution from insurer Delta Dental. Nearly 10,000 children were screened last year, with more than 6,000 receiving sealants. Nearly half had untreated decay and were referred to a dentist.

Hygienists work on students whose parents consent. No child is turned away, but the program is targeted at low-income children on Medicaid or without insurance.

"There's no reason they shouldn't have access like the other kids do," Toberman said.

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