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Preventing Dental Caries With Community Programs

Department of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Reality

  • Although dental caries (tooth decay) is largely preventable, it remains the most common chronic disease of children aged 6 to 11 years (25%) and adolescents aged 12 to 19 years (59%). Tooth decay is four times more common than asthma among adolescents aged 14 to 17 years (59% compared with 15%).
  • Once established, the disease requires treatment. A cavity only grows larger and more expensive to repair the longer it remains untreated.
  • Fewer than 1 in 3 children enrolled in Medicaid received at least one preventive dental service in the past year. Many states provide only emergency dental services to Medicaid-eligible adults.
  • Many adults also have untreated tooth decay—28% of those aged 35 to 44 years and 18% of those aged 65 years and older.

Community-Based Strategies Prevent Tooth Decay

School-Based Sealant Programs

  • Children receiving dental sealants in school-based programs have 60% fewer new decayed pit and fissure surfaces in back teeth for 2 to 5 years after a single application. Among children, 90% of decay is in pits and fissures.
  • School-based sealant programs provide sealants to children from low-income families who otherwise might not receive them. Children of racial and ethnic minority groups have twice as much untreated decay in their permanent teeth, but only receive about half as many dental sealants as non-Hispanic white children.
  • Thirty-six states reported dental sealant programs serving 258,000 children. This number, however, represents only about 8% of children from low-income families who could receive sealants.

Community-Based Strategies to Prevent Tooth Decay Save Money 

  • School-based dental sealant programs are cost saving when delivered to populations at high risk for tooth decay, such as children in low-income households.

Effective Strategies 

Community and school partnerships raise awareness about the value of school sealant programs. Healthy Smiles for Wisconsin, a CDC-supported statewide effort to improve the oral health of Wisconsin children through school and community partnerships, began in October 2000. This program helped to establish new community-based sealant programs, and in 2007–2008, these programs provided sealants to 9,202 children in 19 counties.



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