February is Children’s Dental Health Month. Learn how most cavities in children can be prevented, and how CDC brings this program to children at highest risk for decay.
Dental cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases in children and teens; dental sealants are an effective way to prevent these cavities. Cavities are caused by a breakdown of the tooth enamel by acids produced by bacteria located in a film that collects on teeth. Left untreated, cavities can cause pain, infection, and problems eating, speaking, and learning. Although cavities are largely preventable, 21% percent of children aged 6-11 years had at least one cavity in their permanent teeth in 2011-2012.
Dental Sealants Prevent Cavities
Dental sealants are a quick, easy, and painless way to prevent most of the cavities children get in the permanent back teeth, where 9 in 10 cavities occur. Sealants are thin coatings that when painted on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (molars) can protect against 80% of cavities for 2 years, and continue to protect against 50% of cavities for up to 4 years. Although the number of children in the United States with sealants has increased over time, low-income children are 20% less likely to get sealants and twice more likely to have untreated cavities than higher income children.
School-Based Sealant Programs: Effective but Underused
School-based dental sealant programs are an extremely effective but underused way to reach children at highest risk for decay. CDC targets high-risk children through school-based dental sealant programs in schools where at least 50% of students participate in free and reduced-cost meal programs. Applying sealants in schools for about 7 million low-income children who don’t have them could save up to $300 million in dental treatment costs. School-based sealant programs can be cost-saving within two years of placing sealants, and delivering sealants to children at high risk for cavities can be cost-saving to state Medicaid programs.
What Else Can be Done?
In addition to dental sealants, community water fluoridation is one of the most practical, cost-effective, equitable and safe measures communities can take to prevent cavities and improve their oral health. Fluoride helps to rebuild and strengthen the tooth’s surface, which in turn prevents cavities from forming. By preventing cavities, community water fluoridation saves money, both for families and the health care system.