14:05 PM

Tooth protection: Sealants for better oral health

We in the oral health community often take it for granted that everyone understands the importance of preventive treatments when it comes to good oral health. But the reality is that everyone isn’t aware of simple, cost effective things they can do—like brushing and flossing every day and seeing your dental care provider every year. And sometimes we don’t fully appreciate how difficult it may be for some to get dental services -- and that limits their use of preventive treatments.

Prevention is important for everyone, but especially so for children. If we can keep children free from dental disease, we are giving them a strong start to a healthy life. As I’ve said here before, it is hard to do well in school or in life, when you have constant tooth pain.

Dental sealants are a very good way to prevent tooth decay in children.

For those who may not be familiar with them, dental sealants are thin plastic coatings applied to permanent molars. The sealant is applied as a liquid that is brushed onto the deep grooves of teeth by your oral healthcare professional. Sealants dry into the plastic film that provides a physical barrier to bacteria and sugar and effectively protects the pits and grooves on the biting surfaces of teeth from dental decay.

Sealants are considered a cost-effective intervention to prevent tooth decay. Consider this: the cost of applying one dental sealant is significantly less than the average cost of filling that same tooth. And when you think that a single sealant may prevent that tooth from being re-filled many times over a lifetime, it is just pennies spent for every dollar saved.

In support of sealants as a proven preventive treatment, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 set a goal of increasing the number of children who have received dental sealants on their molar teeth to 50 percent. But, despite numerous studies confirming that sealants are a cost-effective intervention, only a handful of states have reached this goal.

To help reach this national goal, the DentaQuest Institute is working with five community health center dental programs to find effective ways to increase the use of sealants for children aged 6 to 8 and adolescents 12 to 14. Those are the ages when the permanent molars erupt into the mouth. We hope the results of this Dental Sealants Initiative will help other oral health care providers make sure sealants are a standard tool in their offices for preventing cavities in children and adolescents.

We are optimistic the results of this DentaQuest Institute quality improvement initiative will increase the number of children who receive dental sealants. And that means less dental disease.