The Dental Sealant Program is a voluntary school-based program targeting children in elementary schools where at least 50% of the students are eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. The goal of the School Dental Sealant Program is to prevent tooth decay by providing resources to the community.
The School Dental Sealant Program began in 2007. The program is sponsored by Oregon Public Health and is provided at no cost to participating schools and students.
- A school is eligible if at least 50% of the students are eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program
- Students are eligible if they have parental permission.
How is the program conducted in the schools?
- The program serves 1st-2nd graders or 1st-5th graders in very small schools.
- The dental team brings in portable equipment, screens the participating children, and applies sealants when appropriate.
- Screening takes about one minute per child and each child’s sealant placement takes just 15-30 minutes, so there is very little disruption of class time.
What are dental sealants?
Dental sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. Germs in the mouth use the sugar in food to make acids that can create a cavity in the tooth over time. Sealants prevent these acids from penetrating the tooth. If a small cavity is accidentally covered by a sealant, the decay will not spread because it is sealed off from its food and germ supply. Even though dental sealants have been around since the 1960s, fewer than 25 percent of children in the United States have sealants on their teeth.
Sealants are put on in dentists' offices, clinics, and sometimes in schools. Getting sealants put on is simple and painless. Sealants are painted on as a liquid and quickly harden to form a shield over the tooth. Sealants can last up to 10 years, but should be checked regularly by a dental professional. A dentist or dental hygienist can repair chipped or worn sealants by adding more sealant material.
How are sealants put on?
The tooth is cleaned.
- The tooth is dried, and cotton is put around the tooth so it stays dry.
- A solution (with an acidity similar to lemon juice) is put on the tooth to make the surface a little porous. It is easier for the sealant to stick to a slightly porous surface.
- The tooth is rinsed and dried. Then new cotton is put around the tooth so it stays dry.
- The sealant is painted on the tooth and hardens in a few seconds.
- The sealant is in place.
Who should get dental sealants?
Children should get sealants on their permanent molars as soon as the teeth come in - before decay attacks the teeth.
- The first permanent molars (called “6 year molars”) come in between the ages of 5 and 7.
- The second permanent molars (called “12 year molars”) come in when a child is between 11 and 14 years old.
- Other teeth with pits and grooves also might need to be sealed.
- Teenagers and young adults who are likely to get decay may also need sealants.
- Your dentist might think it is a good idea to put sealants on baby teeth, especially if your child's baby teeth have deep pits and grooves.
How can I get dental sealants for my children?
Ask your dentist, state or local dental society, or local health department about getting dental sealants. Check with your child's school about whether it has a dental sealant program.
Many schools in Oregon qualify for sealant programs, which provide sealants for free. Sometimes health or dental insurance or Medicaid programs may pay for sealants.
The reason for dental sealants
Cavities, or dental caries, remains the most prevalent childhood disease and continues to take a heavy toll on children's health and well-being across certain socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic groups. From all available data it is clear that inadequate access to dental care is commonplace for children of families living in poverty despite tremendous advances in prevention.
In Oregon, dental disease continues to be a significant health problem for segments of this population. Low-income individuals have substantial amounts of disease and limited access to dental care. The 2002 Smile Survey found that more than 56% of Oregon children aged six to eight have a history of dental caries. Nearly one in four (24%) Oregon children surveyed had untreated dental decay, and children from low-income families were 2.5 times more likely to have untreated dental decay.
Serious tooth decay in children affects their fundamental well-being and sense of self. Children with unmet dental needs suffer the daily distraction of chronic toothaches, the acute and searing pain of dental abscesses, disfigured smile, dysfunctional speech, and difficulty eating. For every one hundred school children, 5.7 days of school, on average, are lost due to dental disease. In Oregon, that average translates to nearly 52,000 missed school days because of dental problems in 2002.
Children with dental decay who lack access to dental care are often not brought to seek care until decay is severe. More often than not, this results in very expensive, invasive, and drastic measures to address the problem, and usually involves a visit to the Emergency Room.
Clearly, dental caries are well worth preventing.
Although dental sealants are relatively inexpensive and are known to be an efficient means of preventing caries, they are underused in Oregon. In 2002, only 31% of all second-grade respondents had sealants. Among third-graders eligible for free or reduced lunch at schools, only 42% received sealants. Among non-white and/or Hispanic children, only 45% received sealants.
Schools have proven to serve as an innovative access point for children to receive sealants. In schools, children are not removed from the comfort of a familiar environment, and are less anxious and fearful of receiving a dental procedure, albeit a painless one. More importantly, all children (for whom parents or guardians have consented) receive a screening, and every child needing sealants may receive them. Children are not stigmatized by being singled out during the screening and sealing process.