Dental sealants are thin coatings that when painted on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (molars) can prevent cavities (tooth decay) for many years. Sealants protect the chewing surfaces from cavities by covering them with a protective shield that blocks out germs and food. Once applied, sealants protect against 80% of cavities for 2 years and continue to protect against 50% of cavities for up to 4 years.1 Children aged 6 to 11 years without sealants have almost three times more first molar cavities than children with sealants.
Depending on state law and regulations, sealants can be applied by a dentist, dental hygienist, or other qualified dental professional. This can be done in dental offices or using portable dental equipment in community settings like a school.
Sealant use increased by about 75% among low-income children and remained at about 43% among higher-income children from 1999–2004 to 2011–2016. However, this effective intervention still remains underused. Less than half of children aged 6 to 11 years have dental sealants. 2 Children from low-income families are 15% less likely to get sealants and twice as likely to have untreated cavities.2 Untreated cavities can cause pain, infection, and problems eating, speaking, and learning.
Dental Sealants in Schools
School sealant programs are a highly effective way to deliver sealants to children who are less likely to receive private dental care. Programs that deliver sealants to children at high risk for tooth decay also save money. Each tooth sealed saves more than $11 in dental treatment costs.3 Applying sealants in schools to the nearly 7 million low-income children who don’t have them could prevent more than 3 million cavities and save up to $300 million in dental treatment costs.3,4 CDC currently funds 20 states and one territory to support basic oral health program infrastructure and coordination of school sealant programs.
- Community Preventive Services Task Force. Preventing Dental Caries: School-based Dental Sealant Delivery Programs. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Community Preventive Services Task Force; 2016. https://www.thecommunityguide.org/findings/dental-caries-cavities-school-based-dental-sealant-delivery-programs. Accessed February 19, 2018.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral Health Surveillance Report: Trends in Dental Caries and Sealants, Tooth Retention, and Edentulism, United States, 1999–2004 to 2011–2016. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/publications/OHSR-2019-index.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital signs: dental sealant use and untreated tooth decay among U.S. school-aged children. MMWR. 2016;65(41):1141–1145. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6541e1.htm?s_cid=mm6541e1_w. Accessed February 20, 2018.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dental Sealants Prevent Cavities—Vital Signs website. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/pdf/2016-10-vitalsigns.pdf [PDF – 2.37 MB]. Accessed January 4, 2018.