Dental sealants: The role of data

By the CDHP team

The following blog post was written by Matt Crespin, who is associate director of the Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin and a CDHP consultant. The Alliance is the host organization for the Wisconsin Oral Health Coalition. Wisconsin is a leader in the effort to provide dental sealants to more children at high risk of tooth decay. Sealants are thin, plastic coatings that are painted onto the back teeth, which are most prone to cavities. Reaching more high-risk kids with sealants is a key component of Wisconsin's oral health plan.

Have you ever questioned how valuable your program data is? Have you wondered what am I ever going to use the information for in the future? Those of you working with or managing school-based oral health programs may collect varying amounts of data and probably have pondered these very questions. How you use data to tell your story is not only important, but it can be instrumental to program sustainability and growth. Before I explain why, let me provide some context.

Back in 1999, when Wisconsin Seal-A-Smile (SAS) was born, programs collected data using basic spreadsheets. In 2003, program administrators worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop SEALS. Many of you might be familiar with this program, which collects school-based dental sealant data in a uniform way.

Since 2003, the Wisconsin SAS program has grown from a mere six programs serving the same number of counties to funding more than 40 programs in 60 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Last school year alone, over 55 percent of Wisconsin’s high-risk schools were served by the program. Without the data we’ve been able to collect, I can safely say we would not be where we are today.

Even when the data tell an unfortunate story, it can motivate key funders or stakeholders to deepen their commitment.

In 2009, the Alliance produced a report through a grant from Delta Dental of Wisconsin showing not just the progress but the continued need for expansion. After seeing the extensive data we had compiled, both the State of Wisconsin and Delta Dental stepped up to the plate, realizing SAS’s potential — the more schools this program served, the greater impact this program would have on reducing dental disease. Since 1999, funding for this program has grown from $60,000 to over $700,000 annually.

Even when the data tell an unfortunate story, it can motivate key funders or stakeholders to deepen their commitment. Recently, Delta Dental examined sealant data and saw a void in the level of care being provided in the Milwaukee area. Less than 50 percent of the schools in the nation’s fourth poorest city had access to this evidence-based program. The dental insurer has since decided to increase its funding by $250,000 over the next two years with a goal of being in every high-risk school in Milwaukee County by May 2016. Without data, this never would have happened.

More importantly, it is how you use that valuable data in order to further your program growth that is most crucial. Find creative ways to share data in a meaningful way and your program will flourish. Create graphs or charts that make the numbers come alive in ways that are clear and compelling.

Note: The opinions expressed by guest bloggers or interview subjects do not necessarily reflect the opinions of CDHP.

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