Sealing a Smile Packs a Preventive Punch

Why is 80 percent of tooth decay found in only 25 percent of children, disproportionately kids from low-income families?1 The answer is multifold and complex, but Delta Dental believes that school-based dental sealant programs are a large part of a workable solution.

Dental sealants are a critical but underutilized component of preventive dentistry. The one-two punch of sealants and fluoride (in toothpaste and water) along with a proper diet can almost totally prevent new tooth decay.

National surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that only 38 percent of children and teenagers ages 12 to 19 have dental sealants. This number is much lower among children from low-income families and certain races/ethnicities with higher tooth decay rates who would benefit most from sealants.1

Dental sealants can save families time, money and the discomfort of dental fillings. Sealants are thin, plastic coatings applied to the pits and grooves of teeth to protect them from the bacteria and foods that lead to tooth decay. First and second permanent molars are the most likely to benefit from sealants, so it’s best if the sealant is applied soon after those teeth appear, before they have a chance to decay (usually ages 6 and 12).

A sealant is virtually 100 percent effective if fully retained on the tooth, and studies have shown they remain intact 92 to 96 percent of the time after one year and 67 to 82 percent after five years. Sealants should be checked at each regular dental appointment and can be reapplied if they are no longer in place. 2

Sealants delivered through school-based programs have been shown to decrease tooth decay by 60 to 65 percent.3 Using school-based sealant programs at lower-income schools has proven to be highly effective in improving the oral health of those schoolchildren. Studies of children in either Medicaid programs or with private dental insurance show that placement of sealants on first and second permanent molars reduced the need for future cavity fillings.

1 Dye BA, Tan S, Smith V, Lewis BG, Barker LK, Thornton-Evans G, et al. Trends in oral health status: United States, 1988–1994 and 1999–2004. MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat. 2007 Apr. 11 (248):1-91. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_11/sr11_248.pdf

2 Griffin SO, Kolavic-Gray S, et al. Caries Risk in Formerly Sealed Teeth. Journal of the American Dental Association April 2009 vol. 140 no. 4 415-423.

3 Truman BI, Gooch BF, Sulemana I, et al. Reviews of evidence on Interventions to prevent dental caries, oral and pharyngeal cancers and sports-related craniofacial injuries. Am J Prev Med 2002; 23(1 suppl):21-54. http://www.thecommunityguide.org/oral/oral-ajpm-ev-rev.pdf. Accessed March 14, 2012.

Help Your Teeth Age Gracefully with You

Advances in medical technology, public health, personal health knowledge and greater access to health insurance are some of the key factors helping people in the U.S. today live longer and in better health than previous generations. The most recent data indicate that life expectancy from birth is at an all-time high of nearly 78 years, with women at 80.5 and men at 75.5 years.1

Improvements in oral health are also significant, and adults 65 and older are keeping more of their natural teeth for their entire lives than previous generations. During National Healthy Aging Month, Delta Dental is advising older adults that practicing good oral health habits is more important than ever.

The popular idiom “long in the tooth” references how gums wear away in the aging process, leaving the root of the tooth exposed. The tooth root is much softer and more prone to dental decay than the enamel that covers the tooth crown. Dental disease is cumulative over a lifetime, so almost all adults ages 65 and older have had dental caries in their permanent teeth.2 Older adults who take any one of several hundred medications that can cause a decrease in saliva should be especially careful because a lack of saliva brings a much higher risk for tooth decay.

Smart dental hygiene is important even for those seniors who have lost their regular teeth. Besides helping ensure dentures and other prosthetic replacements fit properly, dentists can catch life-threatening diseases like oral cancer early when they are at a more treatable stage.

Studies show that individuals with dental insurance are far less likely to have unmet dental needs than those with insurance, and are also more likely to get regular dental exams.3 However, once individuals retire they often neglect to purchase ongoing dental coverage. Medicare does not provide dental coverage but individual plans are available for purchase. Seniors can also check to see if membership in any national organizations or associations qualifies them to purchase dental benefits.

1 The 2012 Statistical Abstract.. The National Data Book. Data Source: U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR), Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2008, Vol. 59, No. 2, December 2010. Accessed August 27, 2012 at:http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0104.pdf

2 “Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) in Seniors (Age 65 and Over).” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/FindDataByTopic/DentalCaries/DentalCariesSeniors65older. Accessed August, 2012.

3 Bloom B, Simile CM, Adams PF, Cohen RA. Oral health status and access to oral health care for U.S. adults aged 18–64: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(253). 2012.