School-based dental sealant programs are an important and effective public health approach in promoting the oral health of children and adolescents. Eighty to ninety percent of dental decay in children ages 5 - 17 occurs in the pits and fissures of teeth, mostly on the chewing surfaces. Placing dental sealants on molar teeth significantly lowers the probability that decay in those teeth will occur.
The cost of preventing tooth decay by placing dental sealants in children is much less than the cost of treating tooth decay, and the savings realized over a lifetime can be substantial. If untreated decay progresses, it may be necessary to perform root canals and other extensive and expensive procedures. According to the Surgeon General Report, there is strong evidence supporting dental sealants and community sealant programs for the prevention of dental decay, particularly for high-risk children.
The Iowa Department of Public Health funds six school-based sealant programs. These programs are administered by local Title V child health agencies and target schools with a minimum of 40 percent free and reduced lunch rates.
School-based sealant programs improve communication between parents and oral health professionals, helping parents make informed decisions about the benefits dental sealants provide. In addition, these programs help families who lack insurance or who don't have access to preventive services due to transportation or other barriers to care. Most importantly, the coordination of these programs has also been linked to helping families establish dental homes.