Transcript for CDC Telebriefing: New Vital Signs Report – Dental Sealants Prevent Cavities

Press Briefing Transcript

Tuesday, October 18, 2016, at 1:30 P.M. EST

OPERATOR: Welcome and thank you for standing by. At this time participants should be in listen only mode. If you would like to ask a question, press star 1 and record your name at the prompt. This call is being recorded. If you have any objections, please disconnect at this time. I will now send the call over to your host, Lynn Sokler Thank you ma’am. You may begin.

LYNN SOKLER: Thank you, Victor. And thank you all for joining us today for the release of a new “CDC vital signs.” We’re joined by the Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden. At the end of his remarks you’ll be able to post questions. We also have Ms. Susan Griffin, who is a health economist for the CDC’s division of oral health, who is online to answer questions about sealants and school-based programs. I’ll now turn the call over to Dr. Frieden.

TOM FRIEDEN: Thank you very much and thank you for joining us on the call. As you know, CDC works 24/7 to protect Americans from health threats and every month we release a Vital Signs on a specific disease. Dental cavities are one of the most common chronic conditions among kids in this country. Untreated, cavities cause pain, infection, problems eating, speaking and learning. Kids with unmet treatment needs miss more school and have lower grades. Poverty is a major risk factor for having untreated cavities. The bottom line here is — dental sealants prevent 80 percent of cavities in the back teeth, where the overwhelming majority of cavities — still don’t have them.

LYNN SOKLER: Dr. Frieden, you’re cutting in and out. Can you try and stay stationary and see if that helps a little bit?

TOM FRIEDEN: Is this any better?

LYNN SOKLER: Yes, much better. Thank you.

TOM FRIEDEN: Okay. I’ll just repeat the bottom line, which is that a simple coating painted on the back teeth can keep children from getting most cavities. Dental sealants prevent 80 percent of cavities in the back teeth where nine in ten cavities occur. But unfortunately, most kids still don’t have them. The glass here is about 40 percent full. 40 percent of kids have dental sealants, but 60 percent don’t. Dental sealants have been referred to as the dental immunization. It’s a way of preventing cavities, which can be painful and expensive. Only about 40 percent of 6 to 11-year-old kids had dental sealants. School-aged children without sealants have almost three times more cavities than those who do have sealants. But there has been real progress. When we compared data from ’99 to 2004 with data a decade later, 2011 to 2014, we found that the number of children with — from low-income families who had sealants had increased by about 70 percent. This prevented about 1 million cavities. But still, poorer children are 20 percent less likely to have sealants than children from higher-income families. The good news is that we can reach more kids through school-based sealant programs. When I was health commissioner in New York City, we expanded these programs. They work, they’re effective. They focus on schools with a high percentage of kids eligible for free or reduced cost meal programs, and they provide sealants to kids who are less likely to get them from their private dentist. Much of the problem and many of the problems with eating and learning associated with untreated cavities can be prevented by providing sealants around age 6 for the permanent first molars and around age 12 for the second molars. School-based sealant programs also make really good financial sense. They’re the best buy. A recent rigorous review showed that school-based programs actually save money within two years and giving this to children at high-risk cavities actually reduces Medicaid spending. Every tooth that gets sealant saves more than $11 in dental treatment costs. If we were to give sealants to the nearly 7 million low-income kids who need them, we could avoid up to $300 million in dental treatment costs. We can reach high-risk kids with preventive services through the schools, but not enough states have school-based sealant programs in most of their high-need schools and in some states tell us that they have no programs at all. There are some real barriers to expanding these programs, even though they save money. First, there aren’t enough federal funds to support them. These funds are only going to some states, which have to compete for them every two years. They come from both CDC and HRSA. Second, state policies that can make program costs more expensive are too common. This may include requiring a dentist to be there when sealants are applied. In addition, not all parents know that sealants are a — an excellent way of providing good oral health and protecting their kids’ teeth. As a doctor, our mission is to reduce the missed opportunities to protect people, particularly kids. School-based sealant programs can be a win-win. State governments, schools, parents and kids all come out ahead. Dental sealants are simple, quick, easy, they’re completely painless to apply. There are no unwanted side effects and the benefits start immediately. We can reach kids through schools. This is something that doesn’t cost much and when reimbursed by Medicaid, can be a self-sustaining system. Dental sealants themselves can continue to prevent cavities for as long as nine years. They also protect children from the problems of these cavities going untreated, which can be painful, lead to infection, difficulty eating and speaking, and challenges in school. First we need to increase access to dental sealants for children at the highest risk of cavities. The things states can do, targeting school-based sealant programs to areas where children are at the highest risk for cavities and have the lowest access to private dental care. That includes areas where half students are in free and reduced lunch programs, or where there is a shortage of dental workers or where communities don’t have access to fluoridated water. Both fluoridated water and dental sealants are important to protect our kids’ teeth. Officials can implement policies that allow the programs to work more cost effectively, helping connect systems with Medicaid programs, local health centers and dental providers. Dental providers can themselves apply sealants to children at high risk of getting cavities, including kids covered by Medicaid and C.H.I.P. and almost all currently do have some form of health insurance. Dental providers can also donate staff time to help school-based sealant programs in their area and they can accept kids who are identified through those programs as needing more intensive dental services. School administrators can start more school-based programs by working with local and state health programs and dental providers, and then support these programs by promoting them among teachers, staff, parents and students, and, of course, school staff can do the same. By helping parents enroll children when they fill out all of their forms at the beginning of the year. They can encourage schools to build relationships with local dental offices and encourage kids to get care. Parents, of course, have a critical role. Asking your child’s dentist about getting sealants and if your school has a sealant program, signing your kid up to participate, if your school doesn’t have a sealant program, you could ask them to start one. At the federal government, we’re doing our part, matching state costs for applying dental sealants for children enrolled in Medicaid and C.H.I.P, encouraging local community health centers with dental programs dental programs to extend programs, and funding states to fund programs and providing incentives for dentists to practice in underserved areas. Sealants can eliminate the need for expensive and invasive dental fillings for millions of children, but we have to do much more to reach children who need dental sealants and don’t have them today. Thanks very much. We’re — I’m available — we’re available to take questions now. Do we have the moderator on?

LYNN SOKLER: Yes. Thank you, Dr. Frieden. We’re available to take questions now. Victor, do we have anybody in the queue?

OPERATOR: We don’t just yet. Once again, as a reminder to all parties, if you would like to ask a question over the phone lines, please press star1 on your phone, make sure it is unmuted and record your name at the prompt. To withdraw your question, press star 2. One moment, please, for incoming questions — Once again, as a reminder, to ask a question over the phone lines, please press star 1 and record your name.

OPERATOR: At this time, we have no questions.

LYNN SOKLER: Thank you, Victor. Dr. Frieden, would you like to wrap-up and then I’ll close the call out.

TOM FRIEDEN: Sure. Let me just again thank the staff for work on this report. This is information we have not had before. It shows there is a big gap in availability and application of dental sealants. The bottom line is that school-based dental sealant programs protect kids’ teeth and they save money. They’re extremely effective, but they’re underutilized. We can prevent cavities, particularly in kids who are at highest risk for cavities. States can help millions more kids prevent cavities by starting or expanding programs that offer dental sealants in schools. School-based sealant programs have a particularly meaningful impact on the health of kids who may not have the opportunity to see a dentist regularly. So thank you for joining us on the call and I’ll turn to back over to the moderator.

LYNN SOKLER: Thank you, Dr. Frieden and thank you all for joining us today. A transcript of this call will be available online. If you have follow-up questions, call the CDC press office at 404-639-3286 or send an e-mail to This concludes our call. Thank you all.

OPERATOR: Thank you for your participation in today’s conference. You may now disconnect.


Page last reviewed: October 19, 2016