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.

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