ND program seals cracks in children's dental care

HORACE, N.D. (Valley News Live) - A program that seals the cracks in children's teeth also closes gaps--in dental care in North Dakota.

Nine-year-old Avery was just a small third grader when she got her big toothache.

"It was when I bit into like chewy and hard things," she said.

Her mom's busy schedule delayed her from getting right to the dentist. But then the dentist came to her, when Maple Family Dental in Horace visited Avery's school.

It's part of the North Dakota Department of Health's Seal! ND program: sending dentists and hygienists to schools with children most in need of dental care.

Tara Bultema, Maple Family Dental’s oral health educator says visiting the schools is just the first step to getting the kids proper care.

"So they'll come in and do preventative services,” she said, “they'll do sealants, cleanings, exams, fluoride, so that they can reach those kids and then hopefully get them connected into what we call a dental home."

The hope is they'll start going for regular checkups at the dentist after that initial cleaning and sealing. Often the children are covered through parents' insurance, but Bultema says sometimes the work is pro bono.

According to the state's 2015 health assessment, 73 percent of third graders, like Avery, have a history of tooth decay. That's 21 percent higher than the national average.

Dr. Jonathan Bultema, who owns Maple Family Dental, says many in the state don’t regularly visit the dentist.

"In North Dakota there are a lot of kids just do not have direct access to a dentist,” he said. “Some of it's just because of the rural geography of North Dakota, that a lot of people live many miles away from their closest dentist."

A 2012 report completed by the Center for Health Workforce Studies shows that 16 counties in North Dakota have no dentist in practice. Eight more counties have just a single dentist.

But thanks to Seal! ND--which just received a $50,000 grant from Delta Dental in Minnesota--kids in need can get more dental attention.

Like Avery:

"Because there was a cavity that got into the root of my tooth so they had to pull that out," she said.

The program also educated her on oral care--so she can now better clean those chewy foods out of her teeth.