Reducing tooth decay one sealant at a time

January 6th, 2015
A dental student places sealants on a pediatric patient.

A dental student places sealants on a pediatric patient.

Dental sealants have been compared to vaccinations because they, too, provide a preventative measure against a health threat by guarding against a common dental culprit known as a cavity. Because the cost of placing dental sealants is much less than treating tooth decay once it develops, Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry provides extensive dental sealant outreach initiatives to ensure children receive this layer of protection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports tooth decay is one of the most common chronic conditions among children in the United States. The report finds that by age 15, approximately 60 percent of all adolescents will have experienced tooth decay. According to the report, an estimated 51.7 million school hours are missed annually by school-aged children because of a dental problem or visit and in 2009, the total dental expenses for U.S. children between the ages 5–17 were approximately $20 billion.

Luckily, preventive dental care — including dental sealants — is effective in reducing tooth decay. These thin plastic coatings painted on the chewing surfaces of premolars and molars (back teeth), seal crevices in permanent teeth and act as a physical barrier to prevent bacteria from collecting and creating an environment that allows tooth decay to develop.

It is recommended that children receive sealants on the permanent molars as soon as they erupt through the gum.

“Most children, no matter how well they brush, are unable to reach and clean these areas properly,” said Dr. Stephen Crane, associate professor in public health sciences who oversees TAMBCD’s Dallas County Sealant Initiative. “Sealants provide almost 100 percent protection from dental cavities on the chewing surfaces of teeth, where most dental decay occurs.”

Since 2000, the Seal Mobile — a brightly-painted van — has transported portable dental equipment, dental students and faculty to elementary schools in the Dallas Metroplex and surrounding areas. The van has traveled as far as Sanderson, Texas, 500 miles outside of Dallas, to provide sealants to children.

In 2013 the dental bus, a specially equipped RV, was added to the rotation. The bus has two built-in dental operatories where patients can be seen. With this mobile dental unit now in motion, faculty and students can go out five days a week instead of just four.

Since the sealant initiative’s inception 15 years ago, faculty and dental students have placed sealants on approximately 53,000 teeth — saving patients (and their parents) countless hours of pain and dollars in dental repairs.

In addition to the sealant initiative, TAMBCD dental and dental hygiene students have hosted on-campus sealant events twice a year for the past 16 years. The Asian-American Dental Society Bi-Annual Sealant and Prophy Day is a free, Saturday event which brings together faculty, residents, students, staff and alumni as well as predental students from Austin College, Baylor University, University of Texas at Arlington, University of Texas at Dallas and the University of North Texas.

Parents can bring can bring their children to receive this free service simply by calling to schedule an appointment.

“We have been able to reach so many families because of the unselfish and generous support we receive from TAMBCD, the dental community and our community partners,” said Dr. Loulou Moore, associate professor in restorative sciences and faculty adviser for the Asian-American Dental Society. “Our volunteers sacrifice their weekend to provide a service to children that will offer lasting benefits.”

“The ADS biannual sealant day is a huge success because of their dedication and willingness to give back to the community, especially to our youngest patients.”

— LaDawn Brock