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Pierce County Kids Make Strides in Oral Health

May 17, 2017

TACOMA, Wash. –Pierce County kids are taking better care of their teeth. The latest Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Smile Survey shows tooth decay is down among young children—and oral health is improving.

The Health Department program strives to give all residents the best chance at oral health, starting in childhood. All 15 of the county’s school districts offer the Health Department’s school-based oral health program. With help from school nurses, the program allows dental providers to deliver care in available classrooms, music rooms, libraries, stages, offices or other spaces at school where dental equipment can be set up temporarily.

“With the commitment of our schools, Pierce County kids and families continue to make huge strides in oral health—an important factor in a child’s overall health and performance in school,” said Sebrena Chambers, Strengthening Families division director.

Last year the program served nearly 21,000 Pierce County children. That number includes 1,244 students Tacoma School District students, 716 in Bethel School District, and about 6,785 students in the Clover Park School District. Most of the students receive dental sealants, which protect against 80% of tooth decay.

The Health Department compiled results for Pierce County children from the 2015 state survey, then compared them to results from the previous survey in 2010. Findings include:

Drop in untreated tooth decay in children 6-8 years old—from about 18% in 2010 to 11% in 2015.
Increase in dental sealant on at least one permanent molar for 6-8 year olds—from 39% in 2010 to nearly 84% in 2015.
Exceeded national objectives for proportion of children 6-9 years old with:

o Tooth decay—49% (target was 46%).

o Untreated tooth decay—26% (target was 11%).

o Dental sealant—84% (target was 28%).

While the results are encouraging, Pierce County has room for improvement. Almost half of 6-8 year olds have treated or untreated tooth decay or both. Low-income, Hispanic, and Asian-American children disparities exist that prevent their access to oral health services.

Poor dental health can make children poor learners. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, tooth decay is the most common, yet preventable, chronic disease among children in the U.S. The organization Healthy Mouth reports low-income students miss 12 times more days from school because of oral health problems than other students.

Learn more about the Health Department’s Oral Health program at

About the survey

The survey used oral screening results from the 2014-2015 school year for: low-income preschoolers, public school kindergartners, and public school second and third graders. Read the full Pierce County report at To see the state’s latest Smile Survey, go to

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County. As part of our mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health. We are one of only 163 accredited health departments in the country and among six in the state to have met or exceeded the Public Health Accreditation Board’s quality standards. Learn more at

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